Monday, March 31, 2008

Another Suicide Machine Makes News

The media is abuzz about the creation of a "suicide machine" by a Swiss doctor that let's people kill themselves at the push of a button. Amazing times in which we live, no? But this is hardly new. Even though he sought a license to engage in human vivisection, Jack Kevorkian broke through to international celebrity with his suicide machine. Why, the media so loved Kevorkian in his prime that Time invited him to its 75th anniversary party where Tom Cruise rushed up to shake his hand!

Phillip Nitschke, Australia's "Dr Death," also invented a suicide machine where the despairing pushed a button on a computer. He has also invented the "peaceful pill," a concoction of common household ingredients that can be used to end life. (The media has quivered over this, but they don't ask how it was tested. Did Nitschke kill animals, for example? Inquiring minds want to know.)

Then there is the Nu Tech crowd led by Derek Humphry with their suicide machines such as the "debreather" and his instruction in the use of helium and a plastic bag to plunge into the great beyond.

And who can forget the Church of Euthanasia? And the ongoing Internet suicide pacts?

So, this suicide obsession is hardly news. But it should cause us all to ponder why there is so much interest and fascination with self destruction. I think the Canadian journalist Andrew Coyne put it best years ago when he wrote in the Globe and Mail in 1994:

A society that believes in nothing can offer no argument even against death. A culture that has lost its faith in life cannot comprehend why it should be endured.
Or to put it another way, paraphrasing the Buffalo Springfield classic: Nihilism strikes deep/Into your heart it will creep...

Ron Coronado Expresses Regret for Terrorist Past

Rodney Coronado, previously imprisoned for committing arson, is going to jail again. Unlike his previous defiance, this time at his sentencing he expressed regret. From the story:

Coronado was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison after pleading guilty to demonstrating how to use a destructive device during a speech in Hillcrest in August 2003.

Before Miller sentenced him, Coronado said those days were behind him, that he wanted to be a family man, a good husband to his wife of eight months and a father to his two children. "My life, I see going in a completely different direction," Coronado said. Coronado, 41, accepted responsibility for his words and said he was ready to serve his sentence and then "be allowed to move on with my life."

"I have said and done things in my past which I regret," Coronado said, adding later that he realized those words could have inspired others to go out and commit destructive acts in the name of protecting animals and the environment.
I hope he is sincere. There is one way to tell: If he works as hard to convince his former terrorist colleagues to restrain their criminality and pursue the animal cause through legal means as he has in the past to engage in and promote felonious conduct, and if he cooperates with law enforcement to bring other terrorists to justice, I will believe him. If he joins the Gary Francione "abolitionist" approach in advocating for animal rights--and urges his followers to join him--I will believe him.

Coronado could actually do a lot of good. He is idolized for his willingness to act criminally by the ALF and SHAC types and their supporters in the movement. If his heart is truly changed, he could lead them out of the badlands and back to working through democratic processes. Persuasion isn't an adrenalin rush like coercion, but it is the only way to affect change in these matters without causing the roof to fall in.

If he's sincere...


Language Enginieering: Joel Connelly Gets It on Initiative 1000:

The Seattle PI columnist Joel Connelly is a refreshing exception to much of the media that continue to see assisted suicide as a modernistic "choice" issue rather than one founded in abandonment and inequality. He has a column today (for which I was interviewed) properly critical of the word engineering in which the "Death with Dignity" crowd engages to persuade people that hemlock is really honey. From his column:

If you are campaigning for the "right" of people to kill themselves, the first challenge is finding a nonlethal definition: Soft, reassuring terms must be substituted for the off-putting phrase "assisted suicide."...

Apparently Gardner and political consultants advising him never met Derek Humphrey, plain-spoken co-founder of the Hemlock Society."As the author of four books on the right to choose to die, including 'Final Exit,' I find the vacillation by (Oregon's) Department of Human Services on how to describe the act of a physician helping a terminally ill person to die by handing them a lethal overdose--which they can choose to drink (or not)--an affront to the English language," Humphrey wrote to The Register Guard newspaper in Eugene, Ore. " 'Physician' means a licensed M.D.; 'assisted' means helping; and 'suicide' means deliberately ending life. "The department's cop-out choice of the words 'death with dignity' is wildly ambiguous and means anything you want. Let's stick to the English language and in this matter call a spade a spade."
That would be the approach for those respectful of democracy. But assisted suicide activists want to win, and are not about to let a little language deconstruction get in the way of their goal.

Then, there is the money:
Among local political consultants, I-1000 is becoming a cause to die for. The Yes-on-1000 Committee has shelled out more than $333,000, in increments of $10,000 to $50,000, to 12 consulting firms and consultants.

Prominent Democratic consultants are on the receiving end. J. Blair Butterworth, chief political adviser to former Gov. Gary Locke, has received $15,000. And Northwest Passage Consulting, headed by Sen. Maria Cantwell's former campaign aide Christian Sinderman, has received $21,789. The list is growing. "Signature Gatherers Needed Immediately. Great $$$!" read an ad on last week. A company, National Ballot Access, seeks paid signature gatherers for assisted suicide, promising 75 cents for each voter that signs the petition.
Gardner's letter referenced by Connelly, which I discussed here at SHS, whines about all the money the opponents will spend to prevent "compassion." But the reverse is actually true. Assisted suicide is primarily an elitist agenda. The primary advocates are almost all among the well tailored. Millions are being poured into the effort internationally, and hundreds of thousands from around the country into the Washington campaign--and that's before Gardner opens his own wallet.

I have predicted that this measure will fail in the end. Perhaps that is my heart overruling my head. But there is so much bad about assisted suicide that it can be defeated, as it has repeatedly been in legislatures and voter initiatives since Oregan's law passed in 1994.
The key, though, is getting the message out. We'll see how it goes.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

"Hypsokilia:" Are Our New Doctors Poorly Trained?

A very interesting and disturbing article, written by medical school professor Dr. Herbert L. Fred, has been published in the Texas Heart Institute Journal. Dr. Fred warns warns that our medical students have a "laboratory oriented" rather than a "patient oriented" mindset due to poor training. From his article:

I call this malady hyposkillia--deficiency of clinical skills. By definition, those afflicted are ill-equipped to render good patient care. Yet, residency training programs across the country are graduating a growing number of these "hyposkilliacs"--physicians who cannot take an adequate medical history, cannot perform a reliable physical examination, cannot critically assess the information they gather, cannot create a sound management plan, have little reasoning power, and communicate poorly. Moreover, they rarely spend enough time to know their patients "through and through." And because they are quick to treat everybody, they learn nothing about the natural history of disease.

These individuals, however, do become proficient at a number of things. They learn to order all kinds of tests and procedures--but don't always know when to order or how to interpret them. They also learn to play the numbers game--treating a number or some other type of test result rather than the patient to whom the number or test result pertains. And by using so many sophisticated tests and procedures, they inevitably and unwittingly acquire a laboratory-oriented rather than a patient-oriented mindset. Contributing to this mindset, incidentally, are the health maintenance organizations that force physicians to care for a maximum number of patients, in a minimal number of minutes, for the lowest number of dollars.

That ain't all:

The bottom line is this: While modern medical technology has greatly enhanced our ability to diagnose and treat disease, it has also promoted laziness--especially mental laziness--among many physicians. Habitual reliance on sophisticated medical gadgetry for diagnosis prevents physicians from using the most sophisticated, intricate machine they'll ever and always have--the brain.
Tough stuff, but I think it is important for all of us to read the whole thing. Dr. Fred says, in essence, that the art of medicine is being tossed overboard. He goes into some of the societal causes of the problem about which he is warning and suggests some remedies.

I thank him for his courage in bringing this cause for concern to the attention of his colleagues and through the wonders of computer-downloading and linking, to all of us.

HT:Gerry Sotomayor


Animal Rights Threats of Violence and Sexual Assault Close "Art" Exhibit

Why this was ever considered "art" I will never know, but there was supposed to be a film shown at the San Francisco Art Institute that depicted animals being bludgeoned, with a discussion to follow. Stupid and cruel. But we have seen other deeply offensive "art" presented before by institutes and museums--and protests pressuring to shut them down. But those protests are usually for naught because the "arteests" and the First Amendment Crowd always go into high dudgeon about the importance of the free expression, even if it profoundly offends. Which is right, although one wishes these people would be more considerate of their neighbors' sensibilities.

Protests over this junk would have been very appropriate, but the thuggish method by which animal rights activists closed down the exhibit was definitely not. From the story:

"We've gotten dozens of threatening phone calls that targeted specific staff people with death threats, threats of violence and threats of sexual assaults," said Art Institute President Chris Bratton. "We remain committed to freedom of speech as fundamental to this institution, but we have to take people's safety very seriously."
Raping "for the animals?" If this were a "Piss Christ" kind of exhibit and "conservative" threats shut it down in this manner, the media, the First Amendment Crowd, the artist community would never stop screaming. But mark my words, this particular offensive free speech will be squashed by threats of violence with nary a peep.

But this is the point: I know of only two movements that so readily and consistently resort to violence and threats of violence to promote their fundamentalism, and so frequently get their way because of it: Extremist jihadists and extremist animal rights activists. The first are more dangerous, but at least they don't pretend to be peaceable.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

NHS Meltdown: Voucher System Experiment

The NHS is continuing to implode, and apparently some have seen that perhaps a private/public system is the answer. From the story:

Tens of thousands of NHS patients will be given money to pay for their own health care in a controversial "voucher" scheme under new government plans. Patients with a range of illnesses will have direct control of "individual health budgets", allowing them to decide how to spend money at present allocated for them by the NHS.

It will be the most radical part of a wider policy, to be launched this week, to give patients more choice over their health care. From Tuesday, most of those referred for hospital treatment will be given a choice of more than 500 hospitals, including 160 private units, across the country. Under the "voucher" scheme, patients will not be given money directly, but will decide themselves how to spend sums normally administered by the NHS.
Well something had to be done. This is the first breath of hope I have seen for the NHS in some time.


This Scratches My Naderite Itch

Our hyper commercialization of science and medical research is both a great strength and a great weakness. The profit motive certainly stimulates innovation and risk, but it can also stymie advances that don't fit easily into the prospective bottom line. And so I worry that universities, now totally in bed with big commercial interests, may lose some of their innovative drive and inquisitive spirit. Corporate welfare in research is also a problem. I am not opposed to the government funding experiments, but I agree with Ralph Nader on this: When such research provides a profitable boon, there should be some kind of payback to the public for the assistance provided. In short, with so many in science hoping to become the next Bill Gates, the direction of research can be distorted when subjected to filtering through a commercial colander.

That is why I find the concept of "venture philanthropy" so refreshing. From the story:

After four years of research with Silicon Valley backing, Scott Johnson's outfit is preparing for the trial by fire faced by most biotechnology startups. It's time for the road show.

Young companies routinely go on the road to present their best ideas for new drugs to big pharmaceutical and biotech companies. They hope to land a rich licensing deal. But Johnson's organization is not a biotech startup. It's a nonprofit charitable foundation with a uniquely hands-on scientific program. And its upcoming road show will be a key test of Johnson's theory that a small charity with the right rules can be a formidable force to bring new treatments to the world--and speed up the process of drug development.

The story describes how such nonprofit research enterprises may be a new trend:Charities can help bridge the funding gap that often prevents promising early stage science from being developed into medicines, said Johnson. The Myelin Repair Foundation wants to advance studies to the point where it makes financial sense for drugmakers to pick it up, he said.
Basic research can receive short shrift when commercial benefit is the top priority, and that is where such ventures can provide benefit:
"It was just so inefficient and crazy," he said. Drug companies are doing less of the basic research that can lead to novel drugs, because it's expensive and risky. Those who conduct basic university research could tackle big medical problems if they worked in collaboration, Johnson said. But they compete with each other for government grants, so they keep their work under wraps until they can publish in scientific journals, he found. Only then do they hear comments from other experts.

By contrast, members of his collaborative group of university researchers recently brainstormed on a proposed experiment during a conference call. "In four minutes the experiment was completely redesigned," Johnson said.
One of America's strong suits is our philanthropic sector. This kind of imaginative approach could produce a lot of good.


Adult Stem Cells from Uterus Treat Parkinson's in Mice

Well, the old days of "the scientists" such as some of the people over at Amendment 2 in Missouri telling reporters and legislators that adult stem cells are merely "unipotent," that is, that they can only create their own kind of tissue, are beyond defending any more. Uterine stem cells have been injected into mice--and they grew new brain cells helping to ease the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. From the story:

The injection of uterine stem cells trigger growth of new brain cells in mice with Parkinson's disease, Yale School of Medicine researchers report in an abstract presented at the 2008 Society for Gynecologic Investigation (SGI) Annual Scientific Meeting held March 26-29 in San Diego, California. "Previously, we were able to coax these multipotent stem cells to differentiate into cartilage cells," said lead author Hugh S. Taylor, M.D., professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences at Yale School of Medicine and section chief of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at Yale School of Medicine. "Now we have found that we can turn uterine stem cells into neurons that can boost dopamine levels and partially correct the problem of Parkinson's disease." ...

The stem cells in this study were derived from human endometrial stromal cells that were cultured under conditions that induce the creation of neurons. These cells then developed axon-like projections and cell bodies with a pyramid shape typical of neurons. "The dopamine levels in the mice increased once we transferred the stem cells into their brains," Taylor said. "The implications of our findings are that women have a ready supply of stem cells that are easily obtained, are differentiable into other cell types, and have great potential use for other purposes."
A few years ago, I watched,my mouth agape at the baldness of the mendacity, as a scientist in Missouri testified to a legislative committee that adult stem cells were merely unipotent. It wasn't true then, and it is beyond any repeating now.


Friday, March 28, 2008

Dutch Doctors Turning to Terminal Sedation Over Euthanasia

Demonstrating the subversive nature of the euthanasia/assisted suicide movement on proper medical care, Dutch doctors are switching from lethally injecting patients to sedating them into a permanent coma so they die by dehydration over a period of days or weeks. This is the angle being taken in new proposals in CA and Vermont, demonstrating that what we are really dealing with here is a form of euthanasia. From the story:

Terminally-ill patients in the Netherlands increasingly receive drugs to render them unconscious until death, according to a study that suggests people are substituting deep sedation for legal euthanasia. The researchers found that 1,800 people--7.1 percent of all deaths in the Netherlands in 2005-- were drugged into so-called continuous deep sedation shortly before dying. This compares with 5.6 percent of cases in 2001.

At the same time, the use of euthanasia fell from 2.6 percent of all deaths to 1.7 percent, representing a decrease of 1,200 cases, the researchers reported in the British Medical Journal on Friday. "The increased use of continuous deep sedation for patients nearing death in the Netherlands and the limited use of palliative consultation suggests that this practice is increasingly considered as part of a regular medical practice," Judith Rietjens of Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam and colleagues wrote.

I suspect that Dutch doctors are switching euthanasia methods because in formal euthanasia, they have to be present at the bedside at death, meaning they watch as the killing actions they take terminate life. With terminal sedation, they don't have to be present.

This intentional co-opting of a proper palliative measure, rarely needed, at the very end of life--known as palliative sedation--in which the disease causes death, not dehydration, is scandalous. But why should we be surprised? The killing agenda corrupts all it touches.


In California Assisted Suicide Advocates Again Undermine Medicine

For shame! Assemblywoman Patti Berg and Assemblyman Lloyd Levine are at it again in the California Legislature. Soon to be term limited out of office, desperate to pass a bill--any bill-- that will open the door to assisted suicide/euthanasia, thwarted in their desire by a powerful and diverse strange political bedfellow coalition including disability rights activists, medical professionals, activists for the poor, pro lifers, and the Catholic Church, they have found a new way to undermine the delivery of proper medical care.

In place of assisted suicide, they now want to legalize doctors placing their patients into drug-induced comas and dehydrating them to death. Just as bad, they co-opt the good and proper medical practice of "palliative sedation," which they redefine as a method of killing.

The bill is AB 2747. First, Berg and Levine define terminal illness as having one year or less to live--an extremely problematic matter since at that distance from death it can be very difficult to determine expected lifespan.

Then, comes the disgraceful redefinition of palliative sedation, which is properly used in rare cases at the very end of life for irremediable suffering such as agitation, at a time in which the patient generally dies of the disease, not denial of sustenance.

442 (d) "Palliative sedation" means the use of sedative medications to relieve extreme suffering by making the patient unaware and unconscious, while artificial food and hydration are withheld, during the progression of the disease leading to the death of the patient.
Then, this is tied with a diagnosis of terminal illness, which you will recall is now a 1 year window:

442.5 (5) The patient's right to comprehensive pain and symptom management at the end of life, including, but not limited to, adequate pain medication, treatment of nausea, palliative chemotherapy, relief of shortness of breath and fatigue, VSED [voluntary self starvation and dehydration], and palliative sedation.
So, what this bill would do is allow people with a one year life expectancy to request to be put into a coma by their doctors for the purpose of being dehydrated to death. Proving the intent of the bill, AB 2747 requires that if a doctor doesn't wish to comply with request, he or she must assist in transfer to a doctor who will:
442.7. If a physician does not wish to comply with his or her patient's choice of end-of-life options, the health care provider shall do both of the following: (a) Refer or transfer a patient to an alternative health care provider. (b) Provide the patient with information on procedures to transfer to an alternative health care provider.
The medical profession should be up in arms. These petty politicians are corrupting medicine by establishing a false political definition for a proper palliative technique that, if passed, would result in terrible public confusion and distrust in palliative medicine overall. I repeat: For shame!


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Humans Can Smell Danger: My Dad Proved It

Scientists have conducted a study indicating that human beings can smell danger. From the story:

Scientists found volunteers who were previously unable to differentiate between two similar scents learnt to tell them apart when given electric shocks alongside just one of them.They said the findings demonstrate how experiences help sharpen our senses to keep us clear of danger...

Lead study author Dr Wen Li, of the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, in Chicago, said: "It's evolutionary. This helps us to have a very sensitive ability to detect something that is important to our survival from an ocean of environmental information. It warns us that it's dangerous and we have to pay attention to it.

"The ability to discriminate between biologically meaningful cues such as the smell of a 175kg lion and similar but irrelevant stimuli such as the smell of a 3kg cat maximises an organism's response sensitivity while minimising hyper-vigilant and impulsive behaviours."

I found this interesting because some of my family history gives anecdotal validation to the concept. My father was a decorated veteran who fought in the Pacific Theater in WW II, primarily in New Guinea. He didn't talk much about his war experiences, but he did tell me a story that validates this study.

He was leading a patrol when a squad of Japanese soldiers sprang an ambush. It was a terrible fight, and during the battle Dad was knocked unconscious by an explosion. (He turned down a Purple Heart so as to not worry my mother at home.) Thereafter, he swore he was able to tell whenever the Japanese were near and that enabled him to avoid many dangers.

"How could you know?" I asked. "It was a jungle." He swore he could smell them, and whenever he had that sense, he was always right.

So, I believe the study. It worked for my dad in real life and that amazing ability to "smell" the enemy may well be why he survived the war and indeed, why I am here.


CIRM to Pay for Eggs?

The CIRM has a policy against buying eggs for cloning and other biomedical research. But...I warned a bit ago that some bioethicists and bioscientists were agitating to change that policy. Now, the new head of the CIRM, Alan Trounson, has apparently dropped hints that he would like to see eggs bought and sold. From the story in The Scientist (no link available):

Recent comments by California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) President Alan Trounson imply that the agency may be looking for ways to pay women for their eggs for stem cell research.

Currently, laws in California and Massachusetts — two leader states in stem cell research — prohibit compensation for eggs. But with a shortage of available human eggs for research purposes, the issue remains a national sticking point to the progress of stem cell research and cloning science.

At a meeting of CIRM's Standards Working Group (SWG) on February 28, Trounson called on the CIRM to explore ways to reimburse women for eggs, according to the transcripts of the meeting.

"The demand for oocytes may be way beyond what we can possibly deliver," said Trounson, in response to the growing number of applications to use human eggs in research. He cited the failure of many researchers to obtain eggs through donation without financial reward. "Women are not prepared to go through those procedures without some form of compensation," he said.
This would just be one more method by which human cloning technology dehumanizes and leads to exploitation. It would not be the well off who would go through the onerous egg extraction procedure for relatively little money, but the poor. And that could cost women their lives, their fertility, or their health.

At least one CIRM board member recalls the promises made in the campaign:
Jeff Sheehy, a CIRM board member, said he reacted "viscerally" to Trounson's announcement. "It seemed to fly in the face of Proposition 71," he said. Sheehy told The Scientist that Proposition 71 was approved following a campaign that promised a no-compensation policy for CIRM-funded research. "Why go against the will of the legislation in what voters thought they were approving?" he said.
Perhaps because in some people's minds, the wants and desires of "the scientists" trumps all. Paying for eggs for biomedical research should be outlawed. For more information, see Hands Off Our Ovaries.


Animal Rights "Medical" Organization Wants to End Use of Pigs in Surgical Training

Contrary to its name, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) is not an organization of doctors. In fact, the PCRM is an outright animal rights advocacy organization that approaches animal issues through its ideological prism, not the science.Indeed, contrary to its name, the PCRM is not a group of physicians advocating for better medical practices, at all. According to Newsweek, less than 5 percent of its members are actually doctors. During the PCRM’s formative years, PETA donated more than a million dollars to support the group—not because it supports objective science and the best medical practices, but because it promotes animal rights in the name of responsible medicine—including vociferously arguing on behalf of vegetarianism.

This is fine--if it would admit it. But the PCRM pretends to be objective and evidence driven, which it most decidedly is not. Well, now it wants to stop medical students from practicing surgical techniques on pigs. From the story:

Taking aim at one of the last bastions of live-animal training for medical students, a physicians' group that champions animal rights has called upon the Johns Hopkins University to stop using live pigs to teach operating room techniques. Calling the practice inhumane and unnecessary, the Washington-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine notes that Hopkins is one of just two top-tier medical schools still convening live-animal labs."The ethical argument is that you should not use sentient creatures to our purposes unnecessarily," said Dr. John J. Pippin, a Dallas cardiologist affiliated with the group. "The reasons to use live animals, whatever they were, are no longer valid."
Hmmm. The thing is, I can't think of one current animal research use that the PCRM has admitted is necessary. (The aforementioned Dr. Pippin has commented here, perhaps he can enlighten us on this matter.)

I don't want to use animals in research without good purpose, either. But this arguments seems persuasive to me:
"I can't change their feelings, but we'd want them to understand that we really do think it's important in surgical training," said Dr. Julie Freischlag, director of surgery at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Like most of their peers nationwide, Hopkins students practice basic surgical skills on computerized simulators, mannequins and dead animal tissue. Although they watch surgeons work on human patients and may pass instruments or snip sutures, they're not allowed to operate on people.

Freischlag said pigs give students the feel of live tissue - and help students decide whether they really have the interest or dexterity to become surgeons. "Simulators have no feedback as to texture and touch," Freischlag said. "That's where it's so important to use animals, to feel all the right tensions and strengths."
Many medical schools no longer use this teaching approach. But I doubt it is based on science, but politics and political pressure.

We use pig valves in human heart surgery. We use animals in necessary research. I don't see how training our surgeons of tomorrow in a realistic milieu is any different--particularly given that the pigs are fully anesthetized and don't suffer any pain.

P.S. The photo above is of a medical student practicing the implantation of a pace maker into the heart of a pig. Sure makes sense to me that he do that before working on a human being.


PETA's Word is not Its Bond

PETA is trying to destroy the Australian wool industry via boycott because, as I wrote here a few years ago, of an unpleasant but necessary animal husbandry practice called mulesing needed (at present) to prevent an awful maggot infestation known as fly strike. The Australian wool industry eventually sued PETA, and as is often the case in such suits, eventually PETA and the industry settled, as a part of which it agreed to call off its boycott while attempts were made to find an alternative to mulesing. Naturally, PETA soon broke its word.

Well, it has done it again, only this time announcing a boycott from a manufacturer that doesn't even use wool from the merino sheep in question. From the story:

Matalan, a discount chain with about 200 stores across Britain, agreed to the boycott after meeting with animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). "We have instructed our suppliers they must not source Australian merino wool for any future orders," Matalan spokesman David Mellett said in an email to PETA.

But the Australian Sheep and Wool Industry Taskforce said on Thursday the boycott was a joke because Matalan had never sourced wool from Australia. "This is just another PETA beat-up," the taskforce's secretariat manager Norman Blackman told AAP. "Obviously, any
retailer coming out with a public statement like that is not what we like to see."But this retailer has not been using Australian wool and, given the nature of their product range, they are unlikely to do so in the future."

PETA's word is obviously not its bond. But this is the thing: Industries should know by now that PETA isn't interested in compromise, or in finding a reasonable accommodation, or in middle grounds. It will settle cases to keep itself out of hot water or to advance the agenda, but may or may not keep its word depending on how its leaders perceive the situation as promoting the overall cause.

Industries keep thinking that by settling with PETA or accommodating animal rights activists they can find some peace. What leaders clearly don't yet get--perhaps because they don't yet understand the zealous mindset and ideology of animal rights isn't about being nicer to animals--is that these groups are their implacable enemies who want to obliterate all animal industries. Activists understand that they can only accomplish their goals incrementally, but every time an industry shows weakness--or acts irresponsibly as with the recent beef recall--they strengthen the very forces who live to see them gone.

The sooner industry and animal researchers look at this with a clear eye, the sooner they will adopt a more aggressive and effective advocacy strategy to combating animal rights, while at the same time, ensuring proper standards of animal husbandry and welfare.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"The Culture of Death is Heroin"

I have a piece in the new Center for Bioethics and the Culture Newsletter, expanding on my earlier SHS comment about a new "how-to-commit-suicide" book in the Netherlands. It is a pretty good nutshell summary of the collapse of Dutch medical ethics and what happens when euthanasia is is accepted as a legitimate answer to the problem of human suffering. Check it out.


Mouse Study: Alzheimer's Could be Helped with Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cells

This is a proof of principle experiment, with a long way to go for human application (if evern), but this is a very encouraging experiment. UCB stem cells may open a door to treating Alzheimer's disease. From the story:

A novel strategy based on targeted immune suppression using human umbilical cord blood cells may improve the pathology and cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer's disease, based on the results of a study in a mouse model of this currently untreatable neurodegenerative condition, as described in a groundbreaking report in Stem Cells and Development.

Following a series of low-dose infusions of human umbilical cord blood cells into mice with Alzheimer’s-like disease, the amount of amyloid-ß and ß-amyloid plaques--hallmarks of Alzheimer's pathology in the brain--was markedly reduced. Amyloid-ß induces an inflammatory response in the brain associated with the interaction of CD40and CD40L, two pro-inflammatory molecules.

Human umbilical cord blood cell therapy was associated with suppression of CD40-CD40L activity, suggesting that this therapeutic approach modulates the activity of the immune system, offering the potential to target the pathogenic inflammatory response that may contribute to a variety of degenerative conditions, including Alzheimer's disease.
There are 4 million or so live births in the USA each year, each coming with stem cells of astounding medical potential. Bueno.


Belgium Pushes for Teenagers to Decide on Euthanasia

As I often say, euthanasia consciousness leads to the bottomless pit. Latest example: There is now pressure in Belgium to open euthanasia to children and people with dementia. From the story:

Teenagers should be given the right to medically assisted suicide and the parents of terminally ill younger children should be able to choose euthanasia under proposals from members of Belgium's coalition government...Under existing Belgian laws, in place since 2002, patients, other than newborn babies, must be over 18 to qualify for assisted suicide, a situation that Bart Tommelein, leader of Belgium Liberals, wants changed.

Mr Tommelein, whose party is a key member of Belgium's coalition government, has pledged to bring forward new legislative proposals extending euthanasia to children and old people suffering from such severe dementia that they are unable to choose for themselves.
So, we see that under euthanasia consciousness, even "choice" eventually takes a back seat to death as the answer to human suffering. It's as plain as day: In the words of the late Dutch euthanasia opponent, Dr. Karl Gunning, once killing is seen as the answer to one problem, it soon becomes the answer to 100.

The indefatigable Alex Schadenberg, the head of Canada's Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, has more analysis here at his new blog.


Nat Hentoff Lays Into Obama on Schiavo

My buddy Nat Hentoff has been dealing with the issues covered here at SHS long before I was even a writer. An atheist and civil libertarian, Hentoff sees his advocacy on behalf of the equality of all human life--including in opposition to abortion--as consistent with his belief in human rights and dignity.

In this article in the Forward, Hentoff takes Senator Obama to task for his (cynical, says I)"admission" of a mistake allowing the Federal Terri's Law to pass through the U.S. Senate with unanimous consent, writing in part:

Obama added: "I think that was a mistake, and I think the American people understood that was a mistake. And as a constitutional law professor, I knew better."

When he was a professor of constitutional law, Obama probably instructed his students to research and know all the facts of a case. The reason Congress asked the federal courts to review the Schiavo case was that the 41-year-old woman about to be dehydrated and starved to death was breathing normally on her own, was not terminal, and there was medical evidence that she was responsive, not in a persistent vegetative state.

One of the leading congressional advocates of judicial review was staunchly liberal Democratic Tom Harkin of Iowa, because he is deeply informed about disability rights. By contrast, in all of this inflamed controversy, the mainstream media performed miserably, copying each other's errors instead of doing their own investigations of what Terri's wishes actually were. Consequently, most Americans
[Me: Due to media bias and malpractice] did not know that 29 major national disability-rights organizations filed legal briefs and lobbied Congress to understand that this was not a right-to-die case, but about the right to continue living.

Among them were: The National Spinal Cord Injury Association; the National Down Syndrome Congress; the World Association of Persons with Disabilities; Not Dead Yet; and the largest American assembly of disability-rights activists, the American Association of People with Disabilities.

Nentoff closes with a wholly justified swipe at Judge George Greer, who ordered a helpless woman dehydrated to death without once bothering to visit the helpless woman whose life he held literally in his hand:
Five witnesses testified on whether Terri would have refused artificial nutrition, including water, in the condition she was in. Her mother and a close friend of Terri testified she had said clearly she would want these essential life needs. The other three witnesses said Terri would have approved the removal of her feeding tube.

These last three were in alliance on what became a death penalty: Michael Schiavo, his brother and his sister-in-law!

It was on the basis of that 3-to-2 vote that Florida state judge George Greer ruled that "clear and convincing evidence" allowed him to remove her from life--and then 19 judges in six courts, including federal courts--agreed. Like the press, those judges did no independent investigations of their own. And those careless judges are now joined by the equally irresponsible robot-like judgment of Sen. Barack Obama. He should be proud of the Senate vote he now recants--and learn a lot more about the disabled.
Right on, Nat!

SHS Funnies

Je comprends.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"Pregnant Man" Isn't a Man

There has been some twitter about a "man" who has become pregnant. Assuming the story is genuine, and I have my doubts, the man isn't a man. Biologically, she's a transgendered woman who became a man under the law and is married as a man under the law. Because his wife has had a hysterectomy, he decided to become artificially inseminated, and the child will be biologically his because his female organs remain intact.

He claims to have been discriminated against by doctors. If true, that is wrong. His health and that of the baby depend on good prenatal care. Doctors should not deny necessary treatment based on their moral disdain of their patients' lifestyles.

The pregnant husband told his story to the gay newspaper, The Advocate, writing:

How does it feel to be a pregnant man? Incredible. Despite the fact that my belly is growing with a new life inside me, I am stable and confident being the man that I am. In a technical sense I see myself as my own surrogate, though my gender identity as male is constant. To Nancy, I am her husband carrying our child--I am so lucky to have such a loving, supportive wife. I will be my daughter's father, and Nancy will be her mother. We will be a family.
They will be a family, but he is not really a man. She is a woman, biologically. That's why she is capable of having a baby. So, the facts are that a woman, who identifies as a man, is having a baby. That's not the same thing at all as a man having a baby. We can redefine all we want, we can say that legally she is a he, but that doesn't change biology. A woman is having a baby and that is not remarkable at all.


Nebraska Rejects Human Cloning Research

Nebraska has easily passed into law a ban on any state funding of human cloning research and banning any state facility from doing human SCNT. From the story:

The measure prohibits the use of state money or facilities for creating or destroying embryos for stem cell research using a technique commonly referred to as therapeutic cloning. At the same time, the new law allows research using existing lines of stem cells to continue. As part of the compromise brokered by Senator Steve Lathrop of Omaha, groups opposing the destruction or creation of embryos for research agreed not to push for further cloning legislation under three conditions:
- if there are no attempts at private-sector research involving cloning;
- if advancements in cloning do not raise new ethical dilemmas;
- and if there are no violations of the new law.
Of course, any existing stem cell lines would not be from cloned embryos since they have yet to be created successfully.

My sources told me that this was going to be a hard sell. The fact that it went through so easily, it seems to me, is an indication of the profound political changes in this field wrought by the IPSC breakthrough.

Congratulations to Nebraska. More of this kind of law, please.


Brown Allows Free Vote Over Embryo Bill

Under intense pressure from the Catholic Church and others, Prime Minister Gordon Brown is allowing a free vote on the notorious embryo bill, that we first discussed the here at SHS a few days ago. From the story:

Mr Brown agreed to let Labour MPs vote according to--conscience, rather than the party whip, on the three most controversial clauses of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. These involve creating animal-human embryos for medical research before discarding them; removing the requirement for a father in IVF treatment, thus opening the way for more single women and lesbians to have children; and so-called 'saviour siblings', where a child with the correct tissue match is created to save a sick brother or sister.
I was asked to comment on the bill by a UK advocacy group opposed to many of the bill's provisions. Here is what I said:
The United Kingdom is in danger of becoming "Brave New Britain." Heedless of the intrinsic value of human life, swooning for the siren song of "CURES! CURES! CURES" the government apparently believes that scientists should have a blank check--both ethically and financially. But proper ethics are crucial to excellence in science. A science sector that treats human life--even at its nascent stages--as mere malleable clay or akin to a corn crop ripe for the harvest, will be likely to also lose respect for human life at other stages of existence. We tempt the whirl wind when we permit the creation of human/animal hybrid embryos. We objectify procreation when we accede to creating new babies to be used for body parts. Some might say, so what--if the body part baby is also a wanted baby in his or her own right. But what if the baby is not wanted, but only created for his or her parts? What then?

The crucial point upon which to focus is that we can progress as a world society into the biotech century without sacrificing human dignity. We can achieve proper treatments without instrumentalizing the most vulnerable among us or eschewing the equality of human life ethic for a dystopian utilitarianism. It is the wise government that promotes science, indeed lauds it—but wiser still is the government that also always ensures that proper checks and balances are placed around this most powerful enterprise.

The current embryo bill utterly fails in this crucial task. It is my great hope that the government will agree to substantial amendments. If not, it should be defeated.
Don't know what, if any of that, will be used publicly.


SHS Funnies

The Crocs get the hang of health benefits American style.


My Very Abridged Letter to the NEW YORK TIMES

Readers of SHS will recall my disgust at the appalling column by Jane Brody referring her readers to groups that promote and indeed, may also assist in suicides.

I wrote a letter in response to that column and spent a very frustrating morning yesterday trying to keep it from being eviscerated in the editing process. The editors (of the Science Times section, I think) claimed that I was wrong to refer to "assisted suicide" in the letter (quoted in full, below) since, under their definition "assisted suicide occurs when a third party gives drugs or some other assistance to someone who would otherwise be incapable of taking their own life." This is ridiculous as it would mean, for example, that since none of Jack Kevorkian's victims were unable to take their own lives that he never assisted a single suicide--a point I made in our exchange. Needless to say, all of my attempts to prove that the editors' definition was false and unduly constrained went for naught.

Anyway, here is my original letter:

I was stunned and appalled that Jane E. Brody would write a column--and that the New York Times would publish it--referring people to groups that apparently assist suicides. Not only did Brody promote assisted suicide, including for those who are not terminally ill, but she explicitly discussed one technique of self destruction, assuring potentially suicidal readers that it does not cause unpleasant sensations. Brody and the Times have crossed the line from advocating a change in the law about assisted suicide, to promoting the act itself even where it is currently illegal. That was hardly responsible journalism.
Now here is the letter that as it appeared in today's paper:

Re "Terminal Options for the Irreversibly Ill" (Personal Health, March 18): I was stunned and appalled that Jane E. Brody would write this column, and that The New York Times would publish it. She explicitly discussed one technique of self-destruction, assuring readers that it does not cause unpleasant sensations. That was hardly responsible journalism.

I appreciate the Times running my letter, and I gave my permission for this abridged version to appear because I was a faced with either saying very little or saying nothing at all. But this minor event illustrates the pronounced problem that people with views like mine have getting our perspectives presented fully and fairly in the MSM. Indeed, it is a classic example of how we are continually constrained in what we are allowed to say in such venues, when, that is, we are allowed to say anything at all.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Opposing Robert Latimer's "I Did the Right Thing" Defense

Robert Latimer, who murdered his daughter Traci because she had cerebral palsy, is out on parole (alas) and vowing to clear his name. Polls in Canada show much sympathy for him. But Tom Oleson, has Latimer's number in this column published in the Winnipeg Free Press:

Robert Latimer has a problem with the truth. He has a problem telling it, a problem grasping it and a problem understanding it. When he murdered his 12-year-old daughter Tracy in 1993, Latimer initially lied to the police about it, saying that she died in her sleep, in her bed. In truth he carried the girl out of the house, placed her in his pickup truck, ran a hose from the exhaust pipe and filled the cab with poisonous gas until she was asphyxiated.

Then he carried her back in the house and put her in her bed. It was only when an autopsy revealed that she had been murdered in this cold and calculated fashion that he confessed.

So? He was motivated by compassion, and in our unprincipled time, compassion justifies all evils.

Latimer sure thinks so. He wants a new trial with a jury to decide not whether he murdered his daughter but whether he was right to do so. Oleson isn't buying:
I don't think I'm hysterical, but I do know what I and many other Canadians -- particularly disabled Canadians -- are afraid of. We're afraid of Robert Latimer and people like him who think that they have the right and should have the authority to judge the quality of our lives and to decide whether those lives should continue, as Latimer did with his daughter.
The Latimer case is a warning: Millions of Canadians support a man who murdered his child because she was disabled. I can't say the same attitudes would not be expressed widely here in the USA. We are well on the way of recreating the "useless eater" category of human life. Oleson understands:
...[T]he day that Canadians come to consider it as the "right" thing to do, as Latimer asks us to, will not only be a dark day for Canadians who are disabled, but an even darker one for those who are not.


A Miracle or a Mistake?

Zack Dunlap was apparently killed in an auto accident and his organs were going to be procured, when he "came back." From the story:

Natalie Morales: What did the doctors tell you at that point?
Pam Dunlap: She just said it wasn't good.
Doug Dunlap: She said brain matter was coming from Zack’s ear.
Pam Dunlap: All I can remember is just being down on my knees saying, you know, "No. No, God, no. This isn't going to happen." Zack was Medivac’ed to a hospital 50 miles away, in Wichita Falls, Texas--one equipped to deal with traumatic brain injury...

Natalie Morales: Were the doctors giving you any sense of hope?
Doug Dunlap: They were already saying he was brain-dead. (Looking at brain scan)
Natalie Morales: So, when you see this, I mean, he was in a permanent vegetative state?
Dr. Mercer: No, he was dead. He meets the legal, medical requirements for declaring a patient brain dead. Tough as it was, the Dunlaps decided against keeping Zack on long-term artificial life support.

The Dunlaps agreed to organ donation. But they also turned to God and prayed for a miracle. That's when Zack's condition appeared to change. A nurse scraped his foot and he reacted. From the story:

Natalie Morales: As a trauma surgeon and seeing this 21-year-old coming back to life, do you have any sort of medical explanation that you know of?
Dr. Mercer: I don't.
Natalie Morales: Were any mistakes made, or was the process rushed along in any way to declare him brain dead because the family made you aware that he was an organ donor?
Dr. Mercer: No. We didn't rush anything along. We certainly don't do that.
Pam Dunlap: We saw the test. We saw it. They followed every procedure. He was gone.
Natalie Morales: So there is no blame?
Pam Dunlap: There's no blame in a miracle. And there never will be for us.
I understand why Pam Dunlap would embrace the miracle, but we should be more skeptical. This much is sure: Either it was a miracle--which raises interesting issues in itself--or Zack wasn't really and truly dead.

Which it is matters a whole lot. Thus, Zack's "miracle" should not be left as a wonderful and heart warming television story. It needs a deep and meticulous investigation to ensure the public that a living man was not prematurely declared dead. Or, if he was legitimately declared dead, we need to be assured that the criteria used were appropriate. If they were appropriate, we also need to know whether they need to be reviewed. For example, was enough time allowed to pass from initial declaration of brain death until a second confirming test? Was there a second test?

In any event, leaving it as a "miracle"--even if it turns out to be true--just won't do. Answers based on the records and the scientific knowledge of this matter are clearly required to make sure that if God was not involved, that what almost happened to Zack doesn't happen again.


"Politically Correct Eugenics"

As promised, I have a piece in this week's Weekly Standard about the laudable legislation authored by Senators Kennedy and Brownback to reduce the number of eugenic abortions and post birth cut offs of medical treatment (first discussed at SHS here) by ensuring that parents receive accurate and nondirective information about the prospects of their children with genetic disabilities. From my article:

It is a bitter irony that even as we are enlarging our commitment to human equality in many areas, we are turning our backs on it in others. In particular, we may be about to eliminate from our society people with Down syndrome (DS) and other genetically caused disabilities.

With the development of prenatal genetic diagnosis, the drive toward eugenics has returned with a vengeance. Americans may heartily cheer participants in the Special Olympics, but we abort some 90 percent of all gestating infants diagnosed with genetic disabilities such as DS, dwarfism, and spina bifida. Not only that, but a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2005 found that of the approximately 5,000 babies born with DS annually, only about 625 were born to mothers who knew of their baby's condition before birth. Together, these figures suggest that under the regimen of universal prenatal genetic testing urged upon us by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the number of DS babies born each year could plummet below 1,000.

I point out that Kennedy and Brownback are the strangest of political bedfellows, and how a study showed that 23% of mothers of babies with Down said that the counseling they received after prenatal genetic testing was either negative or pushed the abortion option. And then I illustrate how the "Prenatally and Postnatally Diagnosed Condition Awareness Act" might work were it to become law:
The case of cystic fibrosis is suggestive. After a prenatal genetic test was recently developed to detect this disease, the number of CF live births in Massachusetts plunged by about 50 percent. No one knows why--no studies have been done. But if this drop is due to eugenic abortion, perhaps some of these children would have been carried to term if their parents had been required to be informed that great progress is being made and CF is no longer a certain early childhood death sentence.
I quote the Times of London columnist on the joys of parenting his Down syndrome son (covered here at SHS), and conclude:
A famous columnist once opined that only people who have the "moral authority" earned by hard experience should express opinions about such difficult matters. What Kennedy and Brownback hope to provide to parents of genetically disabled babies is the legal assurance that they will be provided information that is complete and informed--rather than counseling tainted by prejudice, ignorance, or fear. The Prenatally and Postnatally Diagnosed Condition Awareness Act may have a clunky name, but it is a noble and practical bill that deserves the support not only of those ideological opposites Kennedy and Brownback--but also of everybody in between.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Therapeutic Cloning Proof of Principle in Mice

Scientists have created mouse cloned embryos, derived stem cell lines from them, and injected them into the Parkinson's diseased mice from which they were taken. From the story:

It is the first time "therapeutic cloning" has been used to treat the devastating disease. Cloned cells are so useful because they are genetically identical to the patient, and are not rejected. Although carrying out the procedure on humans is a long way off, in the short term scientists hope to test new drugs on brain cells from Parkinson's patients grown in the lab...

The study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, suggests the same method of cloning used to create Dolly the sheep can be used to grow a patient's own brain tissue and repair damage done by the debilitating disease.
Well, that's overstating it a bit, but never mind. It is worth noting, however, that human cloned ESC lines have not yet been created. Moreover--and the Telegraph did mention this in the story--IPS cells, taken from Parkinson's patients, could do the same thing for drug testing--and far easier, more efficiently, and without the controversy associated with human cloning.

But beyond that little point, there was much in this study that would make any direct human clinical application a very long way off. This from a scientist friend (and opponent of cloning) who has studied the original paper:
- The mice did show improvement. They were only allowed to live 11 weeks after transplant.
- They note that this procedure is "technically complex,"
which is a huge understatement. This still requires a HUGE number of oocytes to get a single cell line! In total, 187 ntESC lines were produced from 5099 oocytes, for cloning, 24 mice total.
[Me: At present, human eggs in that quantity are extremely difficult to find, and the efficiency would likely be far less.]
- Most of the cells produced that they tested showed chromosomal
- 1 out of every 6 mice showed "graft overgrowth." "Graft overgrowth" is reminiscent of the problems experienced by Parkinson's patients treated with fetal tissue. 15-25% of the patients had worsened, even
uncontrollable symptoms. Characterized by NYTimes as "devastating"; "the patients writhed and jerked uncontrollably"
And that's with mice. It would be even more "complex" with humans.


Dutch Prove that the Culture of Death is Like Heroin

Not content with thousands of euthanasia and assisted suicide deaths a year, the Dutch are about to have access to a suicide guide. From the story:

A scientific guide to DIY suicide is to go on sale in the Netherlands to help people end their lives quickly and painlessly...It contains detailed information on using drugs as well as committing suicide by starvation, including the quickest and least painful way to do it.

The author is a true villain in the modern story of euthanasia and assisted suicide, a psychiatrist who assisted the suicide of a grieving mother--leading to the Dutch Supreme Court's ruling that validated assisted suicide for the depressed:

Author and psychiatrist Boudewijn Chabot said: "Doctors learn little about this subject during their training. This book is for people who want to make their own decisions about ending their own lives."
The Dutch have a high suicide rate already:

There are about 4,400 suicides a year [which I assume excludes the thousands of euthanasia deaths] in Holland, broadly the same as in England and Wales, even though it has barely a quarter of the population. Euthanasia is now legal there but with strict rules.
Strict rules!? Oh, my head hurts.

And the moral of the story? The culture of death is like heroin: Once you start to mainline, it is never enough.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Huge Political Row Over Legalizing Brave New Britain

The British Government is finding the road to passage of its new Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill extremely controversial. One would hope so. Consider some of its provisions as described by the Telegraph:

Hybrid embryos: The Bill permits the creation of hybrid or "chimera" embryos, where human DNA is inserted into an animal cell for research. Implanting them into a woman or animal will be forbidden and embryos must be discarded after use. Pro-life campaigners and Catholic leaders are bitterly opposed.

Embryo screening: Embryos created in fertility treatment can be screened for certain genetic diseases but parents will not be allowed to choose embryos that will develop an abnormality, a clause that has angered deaf parents who want a deaf child. Sex selection is also banned, except to avoid serious gender-related disabilities.

'Spare parts' babies: Embryos can be tested for compatibility with that of a child suffering from a serious medical condition then implanted into a woman. Stem cells from a new child's umbilical cord, bone marrow or "other tissue'', but not a whole organ, could then be used to treat the sibling.
The bill also might reduce the time within which an abortion can be obtained and formally allows for gay/lesbian families.

Yup. It's going to be a hot time in Jolly Olde England. Party discipline is cracking and there is great demand for a free vote. The outcome, is thus, uncertain. But I am betting it passes. They (that is, I) don't call it Brave New Britain for nothing.

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SHS Funnies

Revisionist history, transhumanist style:

When tree huggers take over the world:


Living with ALS

Receiving a diagnosis of ALS is emotionally devastating and riding the usually fatal disease to the grave is an experience that tries men's souls. But as I once heard Rabbi Harold Kushner (When Bad Things Happen to Good People) say in a speech, while there may not be a cure, there is always opportunity for healing. And indeed, I have known two people with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease (called motor neuron disease in the UK), and I witnessed first hand the triumph of the human spirit they both achieved as they fought through their physical and emotional losses to embrace life.

Today's San Francisco Chronicle features a clear-eyed front page story, byline Sabin Russell (who I know a little), about an ALS researcher who now has the disease--and, like my friends before him, is keeping on keeping on. From the story:

From the living room of Dr. Richard Olney's Corte Madera home, sliding glass doors offer a wide-open view of the tidal marsh in front of his house, of passing clouds and of the shorebirds that fly in and fly out.From the story

Inside, the man who once rode mountain bikes and ran triathlons sits nearly motionless in his wheelchair. He watches the world with the same intense intellectual curiosity that made him one of the nation's leading experts in ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis - popularly known as Lou Gehrig's disease...

Before he lost the ability to walk, Olney arranged to equip his home with ramps and a hospital bed. He bought a special van from the family of a patient who had died. The Olneys bought a big-screen television and rented lots of video, but they still go out to movies, live theater and music concerts. "We've settled into our lives," Paula Olney said. "The first six months were terrible, because I noticed some new deficit every week. This plateau makes it easier to adjust."...

While Olney cannot work in his old lab, he keeps up with the literature in the field of ALS research, and he continues to publish. In January, the Journal of Life Sciences published his latest article: "When the Doctor Becomes the Patient."

"I became anxious a few times when thinking about how disabled I would become," he wrote - using a modified computer mouse and specialized software. "My anxiety was relieved when I followed my own advice. I focused on what I was able to do today and realized that more disability would come on gradually, meaning that I would have time to adjust to it."

Olney has a close-knit and caring family, which surrounds him with love and support. He said he is relieved that he has had time to prepare them for a future when he is no longer there. "Prepare for the worst, but hope for the best," he said.

This is precisely how my friends also coped--and indeed, overcame. How refreshing to see a story that doesn't treat the subject as if people with ALS don't have lives worth living.


Friday, March 21, 2008

Booth Gardner's Disingenuous Fundraising Letter for Assisted Suicide

Yes, I know that political fund raising letters are well known for hyperbole and stretching the truth. And Booth Gardner's 4-page letter (no link available) to raise money for "I-1000" the assisted suicide initiative, is of a kind. Space doesn't permit a full deconstruction, but here is just a sampling of the manure Gardner shovels: He writes:

When we or a loved one are experiencing unbearable suffering--past the point where there is hope for recovery--there is a grace inside our humanity that is capable of saying, "It's time."
Well, yes. A time comes to allow nature to take its course. But the idea that assisted suicide is about "unbearable suffering" just isn't true. Even the useless annual report from Oregon makes it very clear that most people asking for a lethal prescription are not in unbearable suffering. Indeed, a recent medical journal article--ignored as I knew it would be by the press--found that some Oregon patients weren't even experiencing significant symptoms when receiving assisted suicide.

Gardner continues:
Opponents of the right are vehement and determined. Their reasons range from well-meaning to appallingly invasive. In their zeal, they distort the truth, raise false alarm, and denigrate our souls with their fear.
Far be it from me to "denigrate" anyone's soul, but opponents are not nearly exclusively of the "right." Indeed, disability rights activists are the most effective opponents of legalizing assisted suicide and they are overwhelmingly people of the Left. Medical professionals are also opponents, and most of them are not of the "right" either. Indeed, a recent book I reviewed by the liberal public intellectual Robert P. Jones, demonstrated convincingly that legalizing assisted suicide is decidedly illiberal.

Gardner references living wills and states:
A Living Will does not, however, address the right to make a choice about ending our lives when we are terminally ill and in unbearable pain or anguish.
Of course, there is nothing in I-1000 requiring that a suicidal patient be "in unbearable pain and anguish."

Then, he gets to the wearyingly predictable, focus group tested, word engineering:
Death with dignity is not suicide. Nor is it assisted suicide, or physician-assisted suicide. By its very nature, suicide is the irrational act of a person choosing to end their life before it's time. For the terminally ill, death is already a reality...A Death with Dignity law simply enables a patient with less than six months left to live to make a rational decision to end unbearable suffering.
That's all nonsense, of course. Even Derek Humphry, founder of the Hemlock Society, acknowledges that, well, assisted suicide is assisted suicide. Moreover, there are many people who suffer far more profoundly, and for longer, than people with a terminal illness. Which, of course, is why we now see advocacy for assisted suicide for the mentally ill.

But never mind facts. Gardner, like most demagogic campaigners, prefers to conger Bogey men to pass his agenda. It's going to be a long campaign.


Stem Cell Reality Check

A big confab of Big Biotech bigwigs has resulted in some candor and a proper warning about the prospect of CURES! CURES! CURES! From the story:

In an elegant hotel overlooking the Pacific Ocean, more than 30 of the world's leading stem cell researchers gathered on Wednesday to strategize on the most effective means of developing novel stem cell medical treatments, while keeping public expectations in line with the actual state of scientific research..."One has to be realistic. Cures take a very, very long time," [Dr. George] Daley said.
Too bad realism and accuracy weren't a high priority during the Proposition 71 campaign, and still isn't for the Amendment 2/Stowers propagandists in Missouri. That has led to a backlash, I think. Slowly, it may be dawning on the public that they were had.

This warning against medical tourism, however, is very apt and important:
"One has to be very suspicious if a patient is asked to fly to a distant location and pay tens of thousands of dollars (for treatment). This is an invitation for exploitation." These unproven treatments, dozens of which are offered online, could also pose medical hazards, Daley said.
Supposedly, the organization will create new guidelines:
The panelists devoted much of their discussion to guidelines the International Society for Stem Cell Research will issue later this year for identifying or developing credible stem cell research initiatives.

"The guidelines are not to prevent the development of stem cell therapy," Lindvall added. "They're actually to help and guide those that are working in a serious way."
I can hardly wait. As I wrote in the Weekly Standard, the last time the Society issued "ethical" guidelines, it approved creating embryos for use in research--both natural and cloned--and opened the door so wide to Brave New World, there were few restrictions with any teeth.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Secondhand Smoke on the Air Saturday

Well, not the blog, but me. I will be doing Bobby Schindler's radio program America's Lifeline on Saturday at 3 PM Eastern. For those interested, it can be streamed over the Internet. Here is the press release.


Organ Surgeon Faces Felony Trial

That horrible case in San Luis Obispo, in which Dr. Hootan Roozrokh, an organ transplant surgeon is accused of attempting to hasten the death of Ruben Navarro, a dependent adult to harvest his organs, is going to trial. From the story:

A judge dismissed two charges against a Bay Area transplant surgeon Wednesday but ordered him to stand trial on one felony charge related to the failed harvest of a disabled San Luis Obispo man's organs at a local hospital in 2006. A jury will decide whether Dr. Hootan Roozrokh is guilty of dependent-adult abuse.
I believe in the presumption of innocence in criminal cases, and so I won't comment on whether Dr. is criminally liable. But seems undisputed that he utterly violated the most important organ procurement ethical protocols and should face professional discipline. And he's not the only one who should face such consequences, as described by the defense attorney M. Gerald Schwartzbach:
No transplant surgeon in the world, he said, has ever been in similar circumstances, in which the hospital had no cardiac-donation protocol; its staff hadn’t been trained; the attending physician didn't understand her role; and the surgeon and coordinator had only observed one such donation. "This is a situation where the entire system failed," Schwartzbach said.
No doubt, but that doesn't excuse abuse. And this comment from Schwartzbach seems outrageous to me:
"Nothing this man did, nothing this man said, adversely affected the quality of Mr. Navarro's life," Schwartzbach said, gesturing to Roozrokh.
Trying to speed death up so the patient can be an organ donor--and perhaps not coincidentally, Roozrokh would not be paid otherwise--is abuse regardless of the patient's condition. Otherwise, no dying person is safe.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

NHS Meltdown: Birthing Mothers Turned Away From Hospitals

The news at the NHS goes from crisis to crisis. Now, women in labor are being turned away from hospitals. From the story:
Almost half of NHS hospitals were forced to turn women in labour away last year because they were full, according to new figures that reveal the "shocking" state of NHS maternity services. Patient groups said the capacity crisis was putting many mothers and babies at increased risk, by increasing anxiety and forcing them to travel further at a crucial time.
If that happened here--particularly, if Bush were still President--can you imagine the screaming? But this isn't a right wing plot. It is socialized medicine.


Death Pusher: Don't Let Your Grandparents Near Peter Singer

Peter Singer once again wants to shove human "non persons" out of the life boat. Not content with advocating infanticide, he also promotes futile care theory and suggests that patients with dementia be denied antibiotics and that other patients be denied life support based on doctors' desires. He also comes out--quite predictably--against the Golubchucks in their futile care fight. From his column "No Diseases for Old Men":

Pneumonia also has not been able to play its friendly role for 84-year-old Samuel Golubchuk of Winnipeg, Canada, who for years has had limited physical and mental capacities as a result of a brain injury. Golubchuk's doctors thought it best not to prolong his life, but his children, arguing that discontinuing life-support would violate their Orthodox Jewish beliefs, obtained a court order compelling the doctors to keep their father alive.

So, for the past three months, Golubchuk has had a tube down his throat to help him breathe and another in his stomach to feed him. He does not speak or get out of bed. How much awareness he has is in dispute. His case will now go to trial, and how long that will take is unclear.

Normally, when patients are unable to make decisions about their treatment, the family's wishes should be given great weight. But a family's wishes should not override doctors' ethical responsibilities to act in the best interests of their patients. Golubchuk's children argue that he interacts with them. But establishing their father's awareness could be a double-edged sword, since it could also mean that keeping him alive is pointless torture, and it is in his best interest to be allowed to die peacefully

Singer may be an atheist, but even he should see that Mr. Golubchuck would hardly see violating his religious beliefs to be in his own best interests. Singer says that in Canada's nationalized health care, taxpayers shouldn't have to support the family's religious beliefs. But a decision based on religious belief is no different than one based on philsophy or other method of determining one's values. We certainly don't want Singer's amoral utilitarianim to dominate society. Perhaps he is only illustrating why many utterly distrust nationalized health care.

Of course, we shouldn't be surprised that Singer would promote death for those he deems less morally valuable than "persons." In other venues, Singer has promoted non voluntary euthanasia for people with dementia, so there is no reason to think he wouldn't also support forced imposition of Futile Care Theory.

Funny thing though: When his own mother had Alzheimer's he took good and proper care of her--even though she had stated she did not wish to be maintained. When asked about this and why he and his sister were spending tens of thousands of dollars caring for her (and no doubt, not refusing health care for her from Australia's nationalized system), he told a reporter for the New Yorker,:

Perhaps it is more difficult than I thought before, because it is different when it's your mother.
I have an idea: Now that his mother is dead, Singer should let other people love their parents just like he loved her.

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The Bottomless Pit of Dutch Euthanasia

Not content with doctors killing the terminally ill, people with disabilities, the chronically ill, the depressed, and babies born with disabilities--not to mention the seriously ill who did not ask to be killed--the Dutch Parliament will now debate allowing doctors to euthanize the elderly who want to die. From the story:

Elderly people who "are finished with life" should be able to get help to die, Femke Halsema, leader of the left wing GroenLinks party, says in Wednesday's Volkskrant. Halsema plans to raise the issue during todays parliamentary debate on euthanasia law, which currently only applies to people with terminal illnesses.

A poll by TV programme Rondom 10 at the beginning of March showed 63% believe that old people should have the right to assisted suicide.
The media can't even get this brief story right. There is absolutely no restriction in Dutch euthanasia law to the terminally ill. Do they do it on purpose or are they just plain ignorant?


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

See Me Talk and Talk and Talk

I gave four hours worth of lectures last weekend at Trinity University Law School in Santa Ana and some kind blogger has posted the first two hours of video here. The blog entry reacting to my presentation, from a blog called "Jus Me Blogging" authored by a Christian disability rights advocate, quite gratified me. Its author wrote in part:

Does life have absolute value simply because it is human? We have to answer that question. We have to. We have to. We have to realize that bioethicists today, SAY NO. We have to become educated, at the very least aware, of what the consequences have been and will be of them saying no! We have to.
I quite agree, obviously, and think the author's passion is abundantly warranted. In my talk, I speak about human exceptionalism, eugenics, the Buck v. Bell Supreme Court ruling, personhood theory, and the threat to human rights posed by saying no to the essential question: "Does human life have ultimate value simply and merely because it is human."


Voice of America Puff Piece on Ingrid Newkirk

If you wanted to know why so many people misunderstand the subversive, anti-human nature of the animal rights movement, just look at this ridiculous puff piece of Ingrid Newkirk, byline Faith Lapidus, that appeared--your tax dollars at work-on the Voice of America. From the story:

She founded PETA--People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals--in 1980, with a mission much larger than vegetarianism. The organization fights to end the suffering of animals on factory farms, in the clothing trade, in the entertainment industry, and in laboratories. Some of PETA's first campaigns targeted research labs where monkeys and chimps were used as test subjects.

Yes, well PETA doesn't just want to end suffering, it wants to end all human use of animals--a point that Lapidus somehow missed in her reporting. Moreover, the targeted labs where monkeys were test subjects involved the Silver Springs Monkey case, which falsely accused Dr. Edward Taub of animal abuse and almost stopped a tremendous rehabilitation technique for stroke victims and children with cerebral palsy from being developed. (Hit this link for details.)

And this junk from Newkirk gets swallowed whole:
"We don't need to, in the 21st century, test our shampoos and our floor polish on animals in these crude ways," Newkirk stresses, adding "but it will take a public outcry before we stop." PETA scientists have talked to the U.S. Environmental Protecting Agency about promoting modern, non-animal tests, which, Newkirk says, "are far quicker, far more efficient, and they apply--because you use human data--more accurately to the human condition."
Readers of SHS know that we can't do away with scientific testing on animals--which is not about floor polish. Human trials, are of course, necessary in emerging research. But you can't start there and you need to test various matters on living organisms to move forward--and that is often too dangerous to peform on people. If we want scientific and medical advancement, we need to research on animals.

Notice also the cutesy pictures accompanying the piece, such as the one I uploaded here of Newkirk feeding the pigeons in the park. All in all, this reads more as if it were written by Newkirk's PR agent than a reporter. But make no mistake: Newkirk is a profoundly misanthropic radical. The VOA should have at least included some indication of that fact.


Oregon Assisted Suicide Prescriptions on the Rise

The Oregon Department of Human Services has issued its virtually worthless annual report for 2007. (Hit this link for details about the empirical unreliability of this yearly charade.) Based on what the Department was told by prescribing physicians--that is where almost all the information comes from--here is a sampling of the information reported to the public:

- During 2007, 85 prescriptions for lethal medications were written under the provisions of the DWDA compared to 65 during 2006 (Figure). Of these, 46 patients took the medications, 26 died of their underlying disease, and 13 were alive at the end of 2007.

- As in previous years, the most frequently mentioned end-of-life concerns were: loss of autonomy (100%), decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable (86%), and loss of dignity (86%). During 2007, more participants were concerned about inadequate pain control (33%) than in previous years (26%). [Note, the report doesn't let us know if any patient actually had inadequate pain control.]

- As in previous years, the most frequently mentioned end-of-life concerns were: loss of autonomy (100%), decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable (86%), and loss of dignity (86%). During 2007, more participants were concerned about inadequate pain control (33%) than in previous years (26%).

The report also said that 88% were enrolled in hospice. But part of hospice care is supposed to include suicide prevention when a patient expresses a desire to commit suicide. Wanna bet that didn't happen in these cases? How do we know? The attached statistical data indicates that there were zero referrals of suicidal patients to mental health professionals.


Medical Students "Lose Empathy for Patients During Med School" and "Support Assisted Suicide"

There are two stories that, if true, may be causally linked. First, the AMA News is reporting that medical students lose empathy for their patients during the course of medical school. From the story:

It only takes a year to start draining empathy from future physicians, according to a study of medical students in the March issue of Academic Medicine. But empathy is a key quality medical schools should promote, experts said, because it makes for better physicians...

Communication experts said the study underscores other research on the value of empathy in the physician-patient relationship. They said the erosion of compassion that begins in medical school is the start of a career-long battle for physicians as pressure to become increasingly efficient squeezes out time for building relationships with patients.
Perhaps that would explain why, according to the assisted suicide advocacy group Compassion and Choices (formerly the Hemlock Society), a medical student organization supports assisted suicide. From its Web site:
The American Medical Student Association renewed its support for aid in dying by updating its current position on the practice and adopting new policy.

The progressive group of more than 68,000 physicians-in-training joins the American Medical Women’s Association in leading the nation's medical professionals toward respecting patient wishes with regard to end-of-life care. The student association first adopted a supportive aid-in-dying policy in the mid 1990's. The new policy, approved at the group's March convention, is similar to the one adopted by AMWA in 2007.
Yes, this makes sense. As practiced in Oregon, once the lethal prescription is written, the doctor need have nothing further to do with the patient or the suicide death.



The New York Times has reached a new low--and for that biased rag, that's saying a lot. Now Jane E. Brody, the Times' health columnist, is pushing two assisted suicide facilitation groups to her readers--including those who aren't terminally ill. From her column:

As of this writing, Oregon is the only state that allows doctors to assist in the death of terminally ill patients. But as was apparent from the many e-mail messages and letters I received, not all who wish to dictate when they will take their last breath would be considered terminally ill, likely to die within six months. Some are terminally unable to enjoy life because of incurable, progressive or incapacitating ailments like metastatic cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, and advanced cases of Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis or emphysemia. Some are looking down the tunnel of ever-worsening dementia and want to leave while they have something to say about it.
Brody then pushes two groups that not only promote legalization of assisted suicide, which is certainly their right, but also apparently participate in them regardless of legality. One is Compassion and Choices--formerly the Hemlock Society. And her description of this group of zealous and committed ideologues is beyond credibility:

As described by Judith Schwarz, a registered nurse and clinical coordinator for Compassion & Choices of New York, people seeking assistance are visited by a trained volunteer, who reviews a variety of end-of-life options, including obtaining adequate treatment for poorly controlled symptoms, perhaps through hospice care.

The organization "does not advertise and has no agenda," Dr. Schwarz said in an interview, adding, "We don’t pressure or suggest, merely provide information."
Right, and I could describe myself as the most handsome man in the world, but that wouldn't make it so.

The other group she touts, the Final Exit Network, conducts assisted suicides using helium and a plastic bag, including of people who are mentally ill, as I pointed out here at SHS. Catch this: In the nation's so-called newspaper of record, readers are referred to suicide facilitators:

The network's Exit Guide program accepts members with various incurable diseases that cause intolerable suffering. Members must be "cognitively functional," "physically strong enough to perform the required tasks" and "able to procure" the needed items. Helium, when inhaled in place of oxygen, results in a loss of consciousness within a minute and heart stoppage in 15 minutes without causing the unpleasant sensation of air hunger, the authors reported. For further information about the network [information omitted by me.]

Well, Brody sure fits the profile of the elite, privileged, professional liberal woman who we tend to see now leading the charge toward legalizing assisted suicide. Her column demonstrates that this agenda is not about a safety valve for the near dead for whom nothing else can be done to alleviate suffering--that is just the sales pitch. Her explicitly promoting of a group that helps kill people with helium proves that assisted suicide is not medicine.

What an utter disgrace.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Courage! Scientists Speak Out in Defense of Animal Research

There are two veins of thought about animal research among liberationist advocates. One has integrity: It says that humans can benefit from animal research, but that we should eschew it for ethical reasons, e.g., as Gary Francione believes, no sentient being can be property. I disagree profoundly with this argument, but it has the integrity of truthfulness and permits us to have a rational discourse based upon an accurate factual foundation.

The other argument utterly lacks intellectual integrity. This argument claims that humans receive no benefit from animal research, and thus for both ethical and scientific reason, all research should be abandoned. This is so specious that it does not even allow debate. It is like someone saying that gravity did not cause the apple to fall from the tree to the ground.

Under concerted attack, two Oxford scientists have the guts to defend the necessity of animal research to further human well being. From the story:

Two leading academics at Oxford University have decided to face down threats of violence from animal rights extremists and speak publicly in favor of the building of a controversial £18m research laboratory in the city. Although scientists are advised to remain silent for fear of attacks, Professor Tipu Aziz, a consultant neurosurgeon, and Professor John Stein, a neurophysiologist have told the Guardian they believe it is time to stand up to the radicals who have attempted to stop the project.

"I think that it is important to speak out," said Prof Aziz, whose research into Parkinson's disease involves the use of primates.
[SHS readers will recall that it was Azis who cleverly got Peter Singer to approve his monkey experiments.]

"The ALF [Animal Liberation Front] are actively now saying that anyone in Oxford is a target. They have had it all their own way for a long time. What we are seeing in Britain today is a minority dictating how the majority of this country live and that is as undemocratic a process as can be imagined. Animal research is absolutely essential to medical progress and a lot of research being done in Oxford is critical."...

The movement in defence of animal research at Oxford is growing amid increasing tension. In recent weeks members of the ALF have been encouraging and directing a violent campaign against university funders, students and researchers through postings on a website based in Florida. Set up by undergraduates in a rearguard action to this increasingly voluble campaign, the pro-animal testing movement is also using the internet to spread its message.

Work was restarted on the lab in November after a year's delay when the original contractor, Montpelier, pulled out amid threats and intimidation from animal activists. Today the identity of the new contractor, which operates on South Parks Road behind a five meter (15ft) barrier remains a secret. Builders wear balaclavas and the vehicles involved are all unmarked...But behind the public face of the anti-lab protest anonymous extremists from the ALF are encouraging the use of increasingly violent tactics. On a direct action website, Bite Back, registered to an address in West Palm Beach, Florida, the ALF posts notices announcing attacks on anyone linked to the university and calling on supporters to "do whatever it takes" to "blow these f---ing monsters off the planet".

Extra security has been offered to many researchers and leading figures at the university and students have been warned to be vigilant... Other researchers will remain silent on Saturday, privately believing Prof Aziz and Prof Stein are taking a huge risk. One, who would not be named, said it was not even sensible to discuss animal testing anywhere publicly in Oxford for fear of being overheard by anti-vivisectionists.
Consider the atmosphere of terror and intimidation described in the story. No, the animal rights movement is not peaceable


SHS Funnies

Pig learns that the "right" not to be a "slave" applies only against humans.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Study: Abortion Can Cause Mental Illness

This news out of the UK is unexpected and a validation of what some advocates have been saying for years. The Royal College of Psychiatrists--not pro lifers--have determined that women who have abortions are at risk of mental breakdown. From the story:

Women may be at risk of mental health breakdowns if they have abortions, a medical royal college has warned. The Royal College of Psychiatrists says women should not be allowed to have an abortion until they are counselled on the possible risk to their mental health.

This overturns the consensus that has stood for decades that the risk to mental health of continuing with an unwanted pregnancy outweighs the risks of living with the possible regrets of having an abortion...

Royal College of Psychiatrists recommends updating abortion information leaflets to include details of the risks of depression. "Consent cannot be informed without the provision of adequate and appropriate information," it says.

It seems to me that regardless of where one falls on the legality issue, informed consent is crucial to "choice" that really meets the definition of that term.

But don't expect that to go down easy, at least on this side of the Pond. The politics of abortion are as much about the deep cultural divide that is rending American society as about the procedure itself. I predict the Royal College's advice will be resisted, or major efforts made to rebut it.

I have no idea what, if anything, women are told here about the risks of mental illness associated with abortion. But if women have not been warned about this and later suffered mental difficulties, I also predict some will sue. If this is a major problem, my old pals the trial lawyers might decide to sink their teeth into this new area of litigation. If they do, it could transform the landscape.


Suicide "Factory" Opens Next to Brothel

The assisted suicide group Dignitas has opened it's killing house next to a brothel. From the story:

The Swiss assisted suicide group Dignitas, which was evicted from itsflat in Zurich after complaints about bodies in the lift, has opened whatneighbours have labelled a 'death factory' on a business park next to the country's biggest brothel. The new property on the Gewerbezentrums Ifang business park, in the village of Schwerzenbach, near Zurich, includes a private cargo lift--for coffins. Since it opened earlier this year, 23 clients have walked in the front door and been carried out at the back in a box.
Sigh. Rarely has a story so captured the tenor of our times.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Get DNA of Children "Future" Offenders?

Brave New Britain just keeps getting Braver and Newer: Now there is a serious discussion of putting the DNA of children into a database because they might become future criminals. From the story:

Primary school children should be eligible for the DNA database if they exhibit behaviour indicating they may become criminals in later life, according to Britain's most senior police forensics expert. Gary Pugh, director of forensic sciences at Scotland Yard and the new DNA spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said a debate was needed on how far Britain should go in identifying potential offenders, given that some experts believe it is possible to identify future offending traits in children as young as five.

'If we have a primary means of identifying people before they offend, then in the long-term the benefits of targeting younger people are extremely large,' said Pugh. 'You could argue the younger the better. Criminologists say some people will grow out of crime; others won't. We have to find who are possibly going to be the biggest threat to society.'...

Pugh's call for the government to consider options such as placing primary school children who have not been arrested on the database is supported by elements of criminological theory. A well-established pattern of offending involves relatively trivial offences escalating to more serious crimes. Senior Scotland Yard criminologists are understood to be confident that techniques are able to identify future offenders.

Yea right! The so-called "experts" are always confident until the whole thing blows up in their faces.

This is just a new eugenics. Who are these future offenders? Minorities? Boys being boys whose parents won't drug them? And once we judge them as future offenders, can't that become a self fulfilling prophesy by the way we treat them?

Good grief! If a kid is a problem, intervene to solve it. But DNA is a private thing and the government has no business taking it from children because they "might" do something wrong in the future.

Jail Sentence for Assisted Suicide Demonstrates Bigotry of PAS Attitudes

Now this is a particularly interesting illustration of the discrimination that the assisted suicide movement would imbed into the law. A man was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to five years in jail for assisting the suicide of his girlfriend. From the story:

A man who gave a loaded gun to his suicidal friend to "snap her out of it" and then watched in shock as she killed herself was sentenced to up to five years in prison for his role in her death. The man, Christopher Burda, 46, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the November 2005 suicide of Nancy Choquette of Stamford, Vt.
Here's the thing: If the woman had been suicidal due to cancer or ALS, Burda would never have been jailed, or if had been, there would have been an outcry not to punish him for his act of "compassion." Indeed, we have seen outright murders go essentially unpunished if the "motive" was to put a sick or disabled person out of their misery.

The dead girl was otherwise healthy, so Burda is feeling the weight of the law. But even this might be changing as there is now advocacy for a right to assisted suicide for the mentally ill--which was recently made a constitutional right in Switzerland. For those with eyes to see--please see!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Tai the Elephant Can't Feel Demeaned

All I can say is, "Oh, bru--u--ther:" Animal rights activists are claiming that surrounding an elephant named Tai with a huge soap bubble--as an art project--would be "be thoroughly demeaning to Tai." This comment from Mark Bekoff from the University of Colorado is typical:

I find the idea of enclosing an elephant in a giant bubble to be done by the Santa Ana Science Center to be one of the most egregious instances of animal abuse I've read about recently.
Really? An animal surrounded by a soap bubble is egregious abuse, indeed worse than those downer animals at the meat packing plant exposed a few weeks ago? Bekoff goes on:
I've noted that "Tai's owner, Kari Johnson of Have Trunk Will Travel of Perris, said, 'I don't know or care if this is for science. It is something neat to do. It helps conservation. People learn about these animals and that makes them more likely to help them in the future.' Of course she would defend this thoroughly misguided and outrageous project by saying it'll help elephant conservation, but this is a flat out misstatement. And how insulting to Tai and to Ms. Johnson to diss science and to say it’s "neat to do."
Another elephant in the bubble hysteric waxes in a similar vein:
Not only is this demeaning to the animal, it is downright cruel. These are regal, very special animals who are threatened in the wild, and now it appears, in captivity as well
Such hyper emotionalism and anthropomorphism over a dumb but harmless idea. Listen up: Tai can't be demeaned. She cannot feel insulted. She is an animal. She may be very intelligent but elephants don't possess the kind of moral consciousness that would permit her to experience the chagrin of being humiliated. Scared? Perhaps. Uncomfortable? Sure. But only people can be insulted, only people feel demeaned.

The show has been called off due to the silly fuss--no big loss one way or the other. But please: Putting a soap bubble around an elephant would not be grounds to unleash the ALF thugs. Bad art, maybe. But hardly the stuff that should cause strong emotions to flare.


PETA and Porn

PETA has always used nudity, for example of Alicia Silverstone, to attract young people--read boys and men--to the cause. But now it has the services of a hard core porn "actress" pushing synthetic leather called "pleather," with the clear allusion to "pleasure." From the story:

Adult movie superstar Jenna Jameson is best known for hard-core pornography but her latest sexy pose is for a good cause - animal rights.

Using her sinful reputation for saintly ends, Jameson has joined forces with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), in a new campaign promoting the use of synthetic leather alternative, Pleather.

SHS to the reporter: Animal rights--as opposed to animal welfare--is hardly a "saintly end," as it interferes with medical research to cure cancer and, with the moral support of PETA, terrorizes animal researchers. It also seeks to create an explicit moral equality between animals and people. But never mind, the media are congenitally clueless.

Of course, PETA and Porn will not reduce the use of leather one iota. It is merely part of PETA's constant, and I must say brilliant, drive at attention grabbing, which brings in donations, and the media fall for it every time. (As does SHS, I suppose.)

I think this also illustrates PETA's generally subversive nature--and not just about the human/animal relationship and relative moral worth--in that it intentionally adds to the growing respectability of pornography in the culture.

Twas a time when feminists and general society rejected pornography as intrinsically objectifying to women. Now its stars are celebrated and seen as respectable social commentators and worthy of emulating--and extolled by the anti-humanists over at PETA.

Oh, did you see the other day that one in four teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease?


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Feed Me! CIRM Threatens to Sue For Free Operating Expenses

When voters swallowed the Proposition 71 snake oil and went billions into debt in a state already drowning in red ink to chase the rainbow of human cloning, they had no idea that the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine would find itself in continual turmoil. The latest is a threat by the CIRM to sue its landlord for free operating expenses such as electricity and garbage pickup.

At the time, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom kowtowed to the CIRM just like other government leaders have throughout the country to Big Biotech and arranged free rent if it would locate in SF. But now, the CIRM says it is owed an expense free domicile and may sue to get it. From the story:

A highly touted agreement that won San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom bragging rights for landing the headquarters of California's stem cell institute in his city three years ago has run into a snag--a dispute over how to pay potentially millions of dollars in operating expenses...

At a closed session in Sacramento on Wednesday, however, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine's governing board voted to authorize legal action against Stockbridge Capital Partners, the owner of the building, to assure reimbursement for the operating expenses...

At issue is approximately $425,000 in annual operating costs for items as diverse as electricity, janitors, parking privileges and fees similar to those paid by condominium owners. Part of the deal, according to stem cell board Chairman Robert Klein, was that the state-funded institute would not have to pay those costs...Adam Alberti, spokesman for Stockbridge, said Wednesday that the company remains committed to keeping the institute headquarters in San Francisco. "We are in year two of a 10-year rent-free deal," he said. "We will continue to meet that obligation."

Alberti said that so far the firm also has covered about $1 million of operating expenses - costs that were to be covered by "private fundraisers and other parties" who have yet to come through with the money. "We are working with the city and other folks involved to find ways to cover this," he said. "Ultimately, the guarantor of the deal is Stockbridge."

Whether San Francisco itself may end up footing part of the bill remains uncertain.

Is there any other industry in which government leaders and private enterprise go so, to put it politely, supine? And all of these billions to be thrown at an area of biotechnology that might not even pan out. Unbelievable.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Wisdom of William Hurlbut on Genetic Disability

I have been focusing recently on S 1810, the Kennedy/Brownback Bill, could result in fewer eugenic abortions, or babies refused life-sustaining treatment--with more to come. The related issue of newborn genetic screening was taken up recently by the President's Council on Bioethics, and my very good friend William Hurlbut had a lot to say about the matter. (He has a developmentally disabled child (not genetically caused), and so has the "moral authority" some say is required to have an opinion on difficult ethical issues.) Here is an excerpt from the meeting's transcript, with my emphasis at what I consider some of his most important thoughts:

Medicine moved from being a relatively ineffective profession at the end of the nineteenth century to starting to have some really effective interventions. And this led us from the realm of care and comfort to the realm of treatments. And then, logically, treatment became early diagnosis and preventive treatment. And preventive treatment then became prevention of any symptoms with whatever interventions you could do, which is all very, very good and I think is a realm of medicine that still needs to be expanded.

But there is this strange shift in this process that moves from a focus on compassion and a focus on the deep human realities of what's happening to a much more mechanistic and social perspective on the phenomenon such that you relatively quickly in your inner mind, your general personal psychology and social attitude, move from prevention to a--I don't know quite what the right word is, but it's a preemptive disposition.

And I'm personally concerned about this because it'll take us time, and as a human civilization we'll mature into this new knowledge. But one thing we need to bear in mind in this process--and we could bring this out in a report, I believe--is the depth of the human meaning of all of this, the importance of sustaining the fundamental core of what medicine and, of course, all of individual and social life is. It's a human, personal process and a collective process that we are not products, and our children should never become products.

We are processes and journeys, and these journeys are inevitably going to involve a dimension of suffering and, as we pointed out in our other reports, frailty and ultimately finitude. And this kind of knowledge that we're entering into could change not just the general character of our culture but our internal experiences of what life is. I've had some experience personally with raising a handicapped child, and whereas I never would have chosen--never in a thousand years would I have chosen and could I have avoided it I would have in the positive sense of avoiding by doing something positive to make my child not handicapped.

But nonetheless, I have to say that having gone through this personally, it became clear to me very quickly it was an invitation to go deeper into the heart of life. There are positive dimensions to the humanness, the deepening and enriching of human purpose, the self-giving and the generosity that is involved and the rich human relations that come from imperfect people interacting with each other. We have to be very careful we don't move from compassion to a cold preemption in all this.

Cold preemption is just what eugenic abortion advocates are after. And Bill is right: If we keep on this path, if we say that only the optimal humans are really welcome in this world, then we will profoundly and adversely undermine the best of human society.


Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cells Help Brain Function in Animal Studies

Here's just another indication of the potential power of ethically derived stem cells to alleviate human suffering. In rat studies, the stem cells improved the creation of adult stem cells and improved inflammation in aged animals. From the study:

The results demonstrate that a single intravenous injection of UCBMC in aged rats can significantly improve the microenvironment of the aged hippocampus and rejuvenate the aged neural stem/progenitor cells. Our results raise the possibility of a peripherally administered cell therapy as an effective approach to improve the microenvironment of the aged brain.
This obviously opens up hope for treatment of serious neural conditions associated with aging. But don't tell the ALF. Rats were euthanized and their tissues studied in these experiments. The scientists had better be careful that the liberationists don't nonviolently burn down their lab.


Kevorkian to Run for Congress on Human Vivisection Party Plank

Jack Kevorkian is running for Congress. From the story:

Assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian is planning to run for Congress in Michigan. Kevorkian is on parole since being released from prison last year.He tells The Oakland Press newspaper that he plans to run without party affiliation for the congressional sea now held by Republican Joe Knollenberg.
I made up the Human Vivisection Party to highlight an important point about Kevorkian that the media simply refuse to report or explore: Kevorkian's goal was never to alleviate suffering but engage in human vivisection of those he was euthanizing, as this excerpt from page 214 of Kevorkian's 1991 book Prescription Medicide makes clear:
I feel it is only decent and fair to explain my ultimate aim...It is not simply to help suffering or doomed persons kill themselves--that is merely the first step, an early distasteful professional obligation (now called medicine) that nobody in his or her right mind could savor. [Of course, Kevorkian isn't in his right mind.] I explained that what I find most satisfying is the prospect of making possible the performance of invaluable experiments or other beneficial medical acts under conditions that this first unpleasant step can help establish.
Kevorkian is a megalomaniac who became addicted to the spotlight. Happily for him, the media are his pushers who provide him with attention but not scrutiny.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Wisconsin Alumni Foundation Owns Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Well, all of the patents over ESCR held by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation have been upheld by the Patent Office. From the story:

The rulings mean the foundation will continue to control primary
intellectual property rights to embryonic stem cell research in the United States. If that research leads to successful medical products or procedures before the patents expire in 2015, the school could win royalties.

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights and the Public Patent Foundation, which asked the patent office to throw out the patents in 2006, argued that their enforcement slowed U.S. stem cell research and drove some investment overseas.

So what is really going on here is a good old fashioned fight among capitalists over who gets to eat the biggest piece of the pie, as I pointed out here at SHS last year.



SHS Funnies

Mrs. Jones learns the importance of choosing a doctor with the right specialty.

Ingrid Newkirk is right! Birds are just like people.

Monday, March 10, 2008

What I Have in Common with Katie Couric

I am not a big fan of Katie Couric--but we do have thing in common: We have both had colonoscopies. I bring this rather personal matter up because this is is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. My father died of colon cancer and believe me, you don't want the disease, and if you get it, you want it caught early. Undergoing a colonoscopy can accomplish both goals by removing pre-cancerous growths and detecting cancer that has formed before it spreads.

As readers of SHS wish they could forget, my procedure discovered a polyp which has by now been incinerated. For those who wish to go down memory lane, here are the details, and no, I won't post a picture of my colon here at SHS.

But do get the procedure. It is painless. You won't even remember much of it because of the drugs. And it could save your life.


RIP: Mother Who Cared for Her Unconscious Daughter for 38 Years

This is all the Schiavos wanted to do for Terri but were prohibited in an egregious injustice; take care of their daughter for as long as she or they lived. Kaye Obara loyally and lovingly cared for her daughter Edwarda for 38 years. From the story:

She never broke her promise. Kaye O'Bara, who pledged never to leave her then-teenage daughter's side as the girl slipped into a diabetic coma 38 years ago, died at her Miami Gardens home this week--in the same room she shared with her child, Edwarda, since 1970.

O'Bara, 80, died in her sleep. She had suffered for years from a cardiac illness that dated back to a heart attack in the early 1980s, said her niece, Pamela Burdgick...

Edwarda's younger sister, Colleen O'Bara, says the family will continue to care for her in the Miami Gardens home. "We never thought of it as a hardship. It just didn't seem out of the ordinary," said Colleen, who said she shared in her parents' hope that her sister would "one day just wake up.
These are the people we should emulate. These are the people who should be considered truly compassionate. These are the people who show us the power and magnificence of unconditional human love.

HT: Judy Dobson

Cultural Imperialism: Rent a Wombs in India

Whatever happened to good old fashioned adoption? It's still here, of course. But in our sense-of-entitlement times, why adopt when we can rent a poor woman's uterus to gestate a baby for us? That's seems to be a growing business in India. From the story in the New York Times:

An enterprise known as reproductive outsourcing is a new but rapidly expanding business in India. Clinics that provide surrogate mothers for foreigners say they have recently been inundated with requests from the United States and Europe, as word spreads of India’s mix of skilled medical professionals, relatively liberal laws and low prices.

Commercial surrogacy, which is banned in some states and some European countries, was legalized in India in 2002. The cost comes to about $25,000, roughly a third of the typical price in the United States. That includes the medical procedures; payment to the surrogate mother, which is often, but not always, done through the clinic; plus air tickets and hotels for two trips to India (one for the fertilization and a second to collect the baby).

Meanwhile, other forms of medical tourism include buying organs from the destitute, as we have discussed here.

We are not entitled to everything we want just because we want it. Infertility is heartbreaking but so is orphancy. Poor people are not brood mares. The story warns about a potential for exploitation. This is by definition exploitation, against we in the wealthy lands of the world should turn our backs.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

At the Crossroads of Eugenics and Solipsism: Engineering a Culture of Death

We have discussed the issue of a deaf couple wanting to use embryo selection to choose a deaf child before, and now the issue is again being discussed in connection with the UK's hopeless mess of a bill that seeks to regulate all human reproduction. The issue is important on several levels and I think worth revisiting. From the story:

Like any other three-year-old child, Molly has brought joy to her parents. Bright-eyed and cheerful, Molly is also deaf - and that is an issue which vexes her parents, though not for the obvious reasons. Paula Garfield, a theatre director, and her partner, Tomato Lichy, an artist and designer, are also deaf and had hoped to have a child who could not hear.

'We celebrated when we found out about Molly's deafness,' says Lichy. 'Being deaf is not about being disabled, or medically incomplete--it's about being part of a linguistic minority. We're proud, not of the medical aspect of deafness, but of the language we use and the community we live in.'

Now the couple are hoping to have a second child, one they also wish to be deaf --and that desire has brought them into a sharp confrontation with Parliament. The government's Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) bill, scheduled to go through the Commons this spring, will block any attempt by couples like Garfield and Lichy to use modern medical techniques to ensure their children are deaf.
And here is the crux of the issue:

'Paula is now in her early 40s,' says Lichy. 'Our first daughter was born naturally, but due to Paula's age, we may need IVF for the second.' The trouble is that, according to clause 14/4/9 of the bill, the selection of a hearing child through IVF is permitted, but embryos found to have deafness genes will be automatically discarded. 'This sends out a clear and direct message that the government thinks deaf people are better off not being born,' says Steve Emery, a sign-language expert at Heriot-Watt University.

This point is backed by Lichy. 'It is a cornerstone of modern society and law that deaf and hearing people have equal rights. If hearing people were to have the right to throw away a deaf embryo, then we as deaf people should also have the right to throw away a hearing embryo.'

Her logic is impeccable. The evil act is automatically discarding certain categories of embryos because they aren't deemed good enough. This is eugenics, pure and simple, and it is evil in that, as the woman said, it presumes some lives have greater value than others. And in an age of radical individualism, if eugenics is good from one angle it is just as good from another.

This right to have the baby we want, or not have the one we don't, includes the killing of viable late gestational babies. Indeed, one disgusting doctor is making an international practice of what amounts to infanticide:
This point is demonstrated, somewhat unexpectedly, at Dr Warren Hern's clinic in Boulder, Colorado. Hern is one of a handful of specialists worldwide willing to perform abortions beyond 24 weeks' gestation, the legal cut-off point in most of Europe for terminating a pregnancy. And he is increasingly seeing British women for terminations that would be against the law in their home country, despite the fact that British providers--nervous of entering a legal grey area--refuse to refer them to him.
This is all very disheartening. We are fast becoming a society permeated in ME! I! ME! I!--and it is driving us toward the culture of death. Booth Gardner wants to legalize assisted suicide in Washington, yelling in speeches, "MY life! MY death! MY Choice!" A deaf couple wants their children to be deaf because it fulfills their desire to be part of a subculture, so out go their other embryonic offspring into the medical waste container. Other parents demand a child without disability--even if it means resorting to late term abortion or infanticide. If someone experiences a profound brain injury, we take away their food and water based on their quality of life, and call it medical ethics.

What is being lost in all of this solipsism and neurotic obsession with control is the concept of true community. We are not islands onto ourselves but part of a whole. Some of the best things that happen in life turn out to be those things we didn't want and didn't expect. Each and every one of us belongs. None should be considered discardable refuse.

Individual freedom is a very important part of liberty, but it brings with it responsibility. We also have to consider our place within the greater whole. And that seems to have been lost in the stampede to fulfill ourselves no matter what it might to do the weak and vulnerable--even our own children.

Culture of death? It is found at the crossroads of solipsism and radical individualism.


Saturday, March 08, 2008

Senators Kennedy and Brownback Team Up

Senators Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Sam Brownback (R-KS) have teamed up to co-author and promote a bill called the "Prenatally and Postnatally Diagnosed Condition Awareness Act." Stranger political bedfellows could not be found: Kennedy is considered the liberal lion of the Senate whose unequivocal support for abortion rights infuriate pro-lifers, while Brownback is among the most pro-life senators who liberals sometimes castigate as a theocrat. Yet, both agree that parents faced with their children's prenatal or postnatal diagnosis of disability or serious illness need and deserve sufficient information from which they can make a fully informed decision about how to proceed in the hope, at least, that so informed more parents will choose life for their babies.

Their remedy is S 1810 and it recently passed through committee and hopefully, will soon be on the Senate floor for a vote.

Eugenic abortion is a growing problem in my view, with about 90 percent of gestating infants with Down syndrome, dwarfism, or spina bifida aborted rather than carried to term. The rush to withhold or withdraw medical treatment for newborns with serious disabilities is also a rising risk. The bill will not prohibit eugenic abortion or withdrawing treatment, but if passed it will require that parents receive full and accurate information--not just the negative--about raising children with such conditions in the belief that fewer parents who are fully informed will opt for abortion or withdrawing treatment.

This is a laudable effort and I am planning a more extended article about it. More here when it is published.

Friday, March 07, 2008

SHS Funnies

Lio demonstrates that only humans are true music makers:

Animal Rights Activists Put Sick Stray Dogs Over People in India

PETA kills stray animals, even some that are adoptable. Yet, we only see the rare protest from animal liberationists against that group. But when an Indian city decides that it must poison 100,000 stray--and in some cases rabid, dogs--the rightists are outraged. From the story:

Officials in Indian-Kashmir have poisoned hundreds of dogs and aim to kill all 100,000 strays in the region's main city - saying the animals pose a risk to humans and make urban life unbearable.

With the world's highest rabies fatality rate, India has long struggled to control its millions of stray dogs, a problem exacerbated by rapidly growing cities and slums.

Animal rights activists vowed Thursday to go to court to stop the slaughter planned by Srinagar, saying it is an illegal and cruel solution to a problem that could be addressed in other ways...

Shah said the poison used, strychnine, was particularly cruel, causing terrible suffering to the dogs. Shah said he had proposed the city carry out a sterilization program instead but acknowledged that his organization had only managed to sterilize 400 dogs in the last two years.

There's always "another way" for these people isn't there? But imagine the acute crisis to the public health and welfare that so many filthy, sick, flea infested, and famished stray dogs pose. What animal liberationists just don't get is that human welfare in crises like this must come before our emotional distress at the terrible prospect of poisoning so many animals.

It is a profound violation of human exceptionalism that India has permitted this matter to reach the crisis stage. The dogs were owed better
. But it is generally a poor country and we should be charitable.

If animal rightists are so concerned, they will send in their pennies and dimes to help pay for a mass neutering program--which seems to me should also be part of this disturbing but clearly necessary program. But in the meantime, the public health must be protected.

Facing a Biased Media? Create Your Own

The Schindler Family has, quite rightly in my view, concluded that it is almost impossible to obtain fairness and accuracy--or at least both at the same time--about Terri's case and other issues such as Futile Care Theory and assisted suicide from the MSM. So, they are starting a weekly radio program in conjunction with Talk Radio WGUL 860 in Tampa (Salem Communications), also to be streamed on the Internet (here) beginning Saturday March 15 at 3 PM Eastern Time. The show, to be called America's Lifeline, will be co-hosted by heath care advocate Cary Hall, and Bobby Schindler and his sister Suzanne Vitadamo: From the press release:

With the help of expert guests, America's Lifeline will focus on:
- Controversial Cases Such as the Lauren Richardson Case
- Advanced Directives & Wills
- The health care rights of Americans
- Threats to the Disabled
- National Health Care
- Local & National Politics
- Home & Hospice Care
- Euthanasia
- Doctor Assisted Suicide
- Medical Futility & Artificial Care Laws
- State Federal Laws
- Ethics committees
- And much much more.

These are areas given far too short a shrift in the media even when the reporting is fair, and when they are discussed, the discourse is generally glancing and transitory. Let us wish America's Lifeline well and hope that it finds a large audience.


Thursday, March 06, 2008

"Non Violent Bombing" at NY Recruiting Office

A recruiting office was bombed in the early morning hours in Times Square today. Nobody was hurt. That means, according to the nonsense spouted by animal rights terrorism apologists, the bombing was merely a compassionate act of peaceful protest.


I was Right: No Media Coverage of Study Showing Assisted Suicide for People with Few Symptoms

Intrepid readers of SHS will recall that I wrote about a study--based on interviews with family members--showing that some patients received lethal prescriptions before experiencing serious symptoms--out of worry about future potential pain or loss of dignity. This flies right in the face of advocacy from assisted suicide promoters that legalization is needed as a "safety valve" to protect against unrelievable suffering.

I predicted that unlike the bogus study claiming that there had been no abuses in euthanasia or assisted suicide--which received worldwide press coverage--this study would be ignored by the media. I was right: You can hear the crickets chirping. After a Google search I found zero stories letting people know that Oregon doctors write lethal prescriptions for people who are not experiencing serious symptoms of their diseases.


Animal Rights Activists Like Wolves Picking Off the Weaklings of the Herd

I write often here about animal rights, most often to decry the violence in the movement. But we shouldn't lose sight of the perfectly legal methods liberationists also apply to end the domestic use of all animals.

One of the most effective, is to focus attention on a few discreet alleged "abuses" of animals at a time. This is smart. Animal products are so ubiquitous that railing against them all would be to disburse the movement's energies and render it impotent. So liberationists choose a few primary enemies at at time, allowing all aspects of the movement from the theorists, to the lawyers, to the political activists, to the terrorists, to concentrates their attention like a knife point and do real damage.

This is why the movement is now so focused on foie gras--the product made from overfed duck and goose livers--with a national effort underway to legally outlaw foie gras. It worked in California. And now, there is an attempt in Maryland to legally ban the sale of foie gras even though none is made in the state. From the story:

The Senate's education, health and environment committee, accustomed to debating global warming, septic systems and high-school dropout rates, heard two hours of testimony on the durability of goose gullets and whether a duck feels pain as its liver is fattened up...

This seems an odd choice because far fewer birds are killed in fois gras manufacture than are chickens or turkeys. But it makes good tactical sense: First, it is a delicacy, so unlike, say milk, few people consume it and thus will not respond defensively to the criticisms. Second, the method of fattening the livers of the birds--forced feeding through a tube--allows liberationists to claim that foie gras is especially cruel in both the method of swelling the birds' livers and the alleged suffering thereby caused. Foie fras producers scoff. They claim that the birds don't mind being overfed at all, that birds in the wild stuff themselves in preparation for winter, and moreover, that at least one study shows no increased stress in the birds having food poured through a pipe down their gullets. But empirical analysis isn't the point of the liberationists' attack--by hook or by crook they seek the destruction of all meat industries.

The point of this post isn't to defend foie gras but to note that animal liberationists are like wolves picking off the weakling in the herd. It went after sow gestation crates in Florida because there are very few pig farmers in that state, and they knew the pork industry would be too shortsighted to spend sufficient resources to defend the use of crates in Florida. Now, it is attacking foie gras producers, which are few and far between in this country, knowing that other food industries are unlikely to rally to that small industry's defense. And slowly but surely, various meat products and practices are being constrained.

Credit where credit is due: This is effective advocacy and smart politics.


SHS Funnies

The Medical Conventional Wisdom bites the dust again:


SHS Continues to Grow--Now 25,000 Visitors per MonthFor

I was happy last November to report that we were up to 20,000 visitors a month here as SHS. Well, since then, thanks to you all, we've passed the 25,000 mark. I am most grateful.

The issues we discuss here are often overlooked or given short shrift in the mainstream media. That's the nature of the business, I guess. But the importance of human exceptionalism and the threats posed to human moral worth (from my perspective) by utilitarian medical ethics, assisted suicide, radical animal rights ideology, and the like--will determine the kind of society we leave to our posterity.

But how to focus attention on these somewhat arcane matters? Authoring books is the core of what I do, but those projects literally take years to do right and the market for what are called "mid list" books has shrunk considerably from when I began my literary career in 1987 with the publication of The Lawyer Book: A Nuts and Bolts Guide to Client Survival. (I am 2/3 done with the animal rights book project and anticipate that it will be published about this time next year.) Moreover, once a book is actually released, gaining attention for it in a world in which about 70,000 books are published each year can be difficult. The day of the big book tour is over unless one is a mega celebrity or received a 7-figure advance thereby justifying the publisher spending tens of thousands on publicity. If no one knows the book is out, it is a book nobody will read.

For years, I have also written (and still write) articles in response to news events, and I love doing it: But let's face it, with the cacophony of views out there, few remember the columns they read even last week. Moreover, the media has a short attention span and is increasingly tabloid in its focus on the trials and tribulations of celebrities and pseudo celebrities, reducing the opportunities for commentary about bioethics and related issues in both electronic and printed media.

In such a milieu, I realized that only a sustained and focused output--that is hopefully interesting and entertaining--had any hope of maintaining attention to these core issues. But unlike my mentor Ralph Nader, I couldn't run for president. So, I was a bit frustrated and at a loss about what to do. Then a friend suggested that I try my hand at blogging, which being somewhat set in my ways, was a foreign concept to me. But he was persuasive in his pitch that communication was in the midst of a revolution, and that I had to adapt or whither on the vine. So on January 27, 2005, he set up my Blogger account for me and I started Secondhand Smoke with an entry about human/animal chimeras, dubious about the impact it would have and worried about the time it would take from other advocacy endeavors.

No more. For the last three years we have had slow but steady growth. This blog now is read all over the world and by media, which often quote from it or use it as a resource to find other sources for stories. And, some of its entries get passed around by other bloggers, multiplying the effect.

Blogging has become a core activity of my work. The reactions of my readers, both those that agree and disagree, are very helpful letting me see how people are thinking about these issues, allowing me to fine tune my advocacy strategies. Blogging also allows me to follow stories for their duration, creating a good historical record, while at the same time, it focuses my thinking and stimulates ideas for further development in other media.

Are we the New York Times? Obviously not. Nor are we Little Green Footballs, Daily Kos, or The Corner. But I believe we are having an impact here. And it seems to be growing.

So, I will keep on keeping on, as we used to say in the 60s, hoping to continue our steady growth and grateful for your participation and support. I look forward to continuing our discourse.


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A Liberal's Righteous Critique of Assisted Suicide

The media like to portray opponents of assisted suicide as almost all conservative, religious, and pro life on abortion. That has never been true. Medical professional organizations--which are secular and support abortion rights--have always opposed legalization. Disability rights activists are, in my view, the most effective opponents of assisted suicide, and they are overwhelmingly secular in outlook, liberal politically, and not pro life about abortion.

The media's myopia about this may explain why Liberalism's Troubled Search for Equality, a recent book authored by Robert P. Jones of the Center for American Progress (People for the American Way)--a proud liberal progressive--did not receive much more attention. Jones castigates assisted suicide as decidedly anti equality. From my review published today in First Things online:

Jones contends that assisted suicide, whatever its liberty claim, profoundly violates the superseding liberal principle that all lives are to be equally protected, since some suicidal persons will receive facilitation,and others prevention, some better care than others, some could be coerced through economic circumstances into not being a "burden," etc. This being so, and since equality trumps liberty whenever they conflict, Jones argues that assisted suicide should not be legalized--much less made a constitutional right--particularly given the profound social inequalities faced by the seriously ill, the elderly, and people with disabilities. Moreover, their exclusion of religious voices in the public square, rather than helping society determine the right, actually renders egalitarian liberals unable to "hear the real voices of the disadvantaged it promises to champion."
Jones has nailed it in his book and does so in a distinctly secular lexicon. Assisted suicide is intrinsically anti-equality. It opens the door for applying killing instead of caring for patients who are most expensive to care for. Most importantly, assisted suicide advocacy accepts the notion that there are human lives not worth living.

I conclude my review:
Still, Jones' logically argued and precisely aimed brief against assisted suicide from a liberal philosophical perspective--no call to respect the sanctity of human life her--is a distinct service to the broader debate. He proves to anyone with eyes to read that legalizing assisted suicide would be decidedly illiberal and would be an exercise in crass solipsism. As Jones notes in his conclusion:

If liberals could summon the moral vision, integrity, and political will to forgo, even temporarily, a liberty for the privileged that is costly to the already disadvantaged, this act would communicate a sincere commitment to equal concern and social solidarity. Failing to make these connections is tantamount to claiming that, in these circumstances, the lives of the disadvantaged matter less, and that position is one that no true egalitarian can tolerate.

So true. But, in my experience, committed assisted-suicide advocates, unlike the author, aren’t much interested in bringing about an ideal liberal and egalitarian society. Rather, theirs is an agenda of the privileged pursued mostly by single-minded advocates who want what they want--the right to die in the time, manner, and method of their own choosing. In achieving this goal, they don’t much care who gets hurt.

Good for Jones for casting needed light about this important issue from the unequivocally left side of the stadium.


Haleigh Poutre: Proof It's Not Over Until It's Over In PVS Cases

I have written about Haleigh Poutre nationally and several times here at SHS (here, here, here as examples), but this bears repetition until it finally sinks in. Scenario: Child badly beaten. Within a week or so Haleigh's doctors write her off as in a persistent vegetative state. She will never awaken, they say. Best to dehydrate.

The State of Massachusetts goes meekly along--even though it is supposed to take at least 3 months to be able to diagnose a PVS. The Social Services people petition the Supreme Court of MA for permission to dehydrate and remove breathing assistance, and the rubber stamp is given. But then, just before forcing a little girl who has already been terribly abused by those who were supposed to love her, and being written off by state bureaucrats and judges who were supposed to protect her, she shows signs of awareness and at the last second, the dehydration is cancelled.

NOW, she can apparently communicate and may testify in court against her abusers. From the story:

More than two years after Haleigh Poutre was so brutally beaten she was left in a coma from which she was never expected to revive, the 14-year-old girl may be well enough to testify against the man accused of abusing her. Haleigh, who was once thought to be so irreversibly brain damaged that doctors planned to remove her from life support, has spent the last two years recovering at the Franciscan Hospital for Children near Boston. She began breathing on her own and showing other signs of brain activity in January 2006, just days before doctors planned to remove her ventilator. Now, she is reportedly able to communicate and recall her alleged attack...

Haleigh is now in rehabilitation at the Franciscan Hospital for Children near Boston, though her level of recovery is not clear. Wendy Murphy, Avrett's attorney, said Haleigh is enrolled at the day school at the hospital.

Haleigh is in school, but if the bureucratic process needed to dehydrate her had moved a little bit faster, she would be dead!

This case involves many lessons, that we never seem to learn. One is that doctors should turn away from the quality of life ethic that is infecting our medical ethics and skewing prognoses and advice about the care of people with profound cognitive impairments. This can lead, as in this case, to a rush to judgment about PVS and chances for improvement.

Second, we should quit writing off people, even when diagnosed properly with PVS, primarily because they possess equal moral worth. Moreover, the diagnosis is often mistaken or people wake up--such as Jesse Ramirez whose wife wanted him dehydrated, but whose family fought for his life. Eventually he walked out of the hospital on his own two legs and I had the honor of shaking his hand.

Utilitarian ethics, duty to die, futile care theory, dehydration--it isn't safe today to be profoundly disabled or terminally ill. Indeed, increasingly such helpless people are being treated as if they were less than fully human.

But will we learn? No. Cases like this will not cause a dent in the mindset.


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Oregon Assisted Suicide Cultural Imperialism

If anyone thought that the international death with dignity crowd would allow Washington voters to decide for themselves whether to legalize assisted suicide, they were living in a fantasy world. The campaign was barely born last November and the Oregon Death with Dignity Political Action Committee donated $200,000 to the cause. They want this election and they want it bad.

Now, a quick question: Will the media, which are so often exorcised about the influence of money in political campaigns make a stink about this? Not on your life. Self Righteous condemnation of big money in campaigns is expressed only when the money is donated for causes with which journalists disagree.

Remember Missouri and Amendment 2 and Proposition 71? Huge bucks from special interests were poured into those campaigns with nary a peep from an outraged media. But had, say, Mel Gibson donated millions to defeat those plans, the howling would have been loud enough to wake the dead.


Why Health Care Will Matter in This Election

Oregon has been trying to insure the uninsured in the state who do not qualify for its (rationed) Medicaid program. So many people want to sign up for subsidized insurance that the state his holding a lottery. From the story:

Oregon is conducting a one-of-a-kind lottery, and the prize is health insurance. The state will start drawing names this week for the chance to enroll in a health care program designed for people not poor enough for Medicaid but too cash-strapped to buy their own insurance. More than 80,000 people have signed up since registration for the lottery opened in January. Only a few thousand will be chosen for the program...An estimated 600,000 people in Oregon are uninsured, according to the Oregon Department of Human Services.

This story illustrates the unrest that is growing about health insurance and access to medical treatment. Indeed, the issue seems as big as it was in 1992, to the point that it is beginning to look like a pressure cooker ready to blow. This means that the issue could influence the election.

Where do the presidential candidates stand? Senator Hillary Clinton wants mandatory private insurance for everyone, with potential wage garnishment for those who don't sign up, and Senator Barack Obama has a similar, albeit non mandatory except for children, approach. I am not sure what Senator John McCain's plan will be, but if it isn't convincing, he will lose votes.


Oregon Assisted Suicides Without Symptoms

Here are some more important points in the newly released study, which I discussed more extensively here, that I think deserve special note. It turns out doctors have written lethal prescriptions for patients who weren't yet suffering serious symptoms of their disease:

No physical symptoms experienced at the time of the request were rated higher than 2 on the 1–5 scale. In most cases, future concerns about physical symptoms were rated as more important than physical symptoms present at the time of the request.
Also, I have charged that the Hemlock Society (now called the euphemistic Compassion and Choices) is really in charge of assisted suicide in Oregon, noting for example that it publishes its own statistics. The study authors used the organization to find their interviewees, which confirms my suspicion:
Compassion and Choices, the referring agency for 82% of the participants, identified 180 potentially eligible family members of whom 68 (38%) participated.
What do you think the chances of the mainstream media picking up on these important findings? Yea, slim and none. I'll let you know if I am wrong.


The Abandonment of Assisted Suicide

Assisted suicide advocates, when they are not striving to word engineer through use of the gooey euphemism "physician assisted death (PAD)"--which, alas, has been picked up by some professional journal authors--use scare tactics about unrelievable pain to sell the agenda. Well a new study has come out about what family members of those who died by assisted suicide in Oregon say the reasons were for their loved ones' hastening their deaths. As previous studies have shown, it has very little to do with pain and almost everything to do with fear about future suffering. From the study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine 23(2):154–7 (no link):

Family members describe loved ones who pursue PAD as individuals for whom being independent and in control is important, who anticipate the negative aspects of dying, and who believe that the impending loss of self, abilities, and quality of life will be intolerable. They fear being a burden to others, yet want to die at home. Concerns about what may be experienced in the future, including physical symptoms, were substantially more powerful reasons than what they experienced at the time of the request. Overall, the reasons reported are similar to those reported by hospice workers in Oregon who have cared for patients pursuing PAD2,5 and in a separate qualitative study of family members of patients who pursued assisted suicide outside the law in Washington and Oregon.
This is why assisted suicide constitutes often unintentional abandonment. When someone asks for the pills and their doctor's response is to write the prescription, he or she is confirming their patient's worst fears about being a burden or being less lovable, or dying without dignity. As Kubler Ross noted, people go through a difficult process when they learn they are dying. The very real fears and existential agony often--not always, but often--are transcended. Other studies show that people who wanted to die today are glad one month later they hung around. Hospice professionals will tell you of dying persons claiming that the end phase was one of the best times of their lives that they wouldn't have missed for anything. I have seen that phenomenon myself during my time as a hospice volunteer.

The authors suggest that a good response to a request for assisted suicide is assurance:

Our data suggest that when talking with a patient requesting PAD,clinicians should focus on eliciting and addressing worries and apprehension about the future with the goal of reducing anxiety about the dying process. Some Oregon clinicians have expressed surprise at the paucity of suffering at the time of the request among these patients. Addressing patients’ concerns with concrete interventions that help maintain control, independence and self care, all in the home environment, may be an effective way to address requests for PAD and improve quality of remaining life.

To which I would add, say no to the request--as most doctors in Oregon apparently do. Otherwise, the physician is lending the weight of his or her authority to the burdens felt by the patient. How tragic that people in Oregon who decided on assisted suicide may have cheated themselves out of a time that, for all their fears, they might have ultimatelyu found to be well worth the living.


Monday, March 03, 2008

UK "Angel of Death" Convicted; But What About the Netherlands?

A nurse in the UK has been convicted of murdering four frail elderly patients with overdoses of insulin. From the story:

Colin Norris, 32, believed he could kill with impunity, claiming four "frail and helpless" victims within six months by injecting them with lethal doses of insulin.
He boasted to hospital colleagues that "someone always died" when he was on the night shift and even accurately predicted when one would lapse into a coma. Norris, who had developed a hatred of elderly women in particular, showed no emotion as he was found guilty of four murders at Newcastle Crown Court. He will be sentenced tomorrow.
This guy was clearly twisted and deserves every ounce of punishment he receives.

But his case got me thinking. In the Netherlands every year doctors lethally inject about 800 (according to government sponsored studies) patients who have never asked to be euthanized. This is murder under Dutch law, but it is never punished meaningfully. The Dutch even have a name for it: "Termination Without Request or Consent."

How are all those Dutch murders different from the killings committed by Norris? Ah, you say the motive is what matters--Norris hated and Dutch doctors just want to end suffering. But the act is what matters most, isn't it? The Dutch non consensual euthanasia killings are murders as foul as those committed by Norris. But at least in the UK they do something about it.


Boston Globe Misses Real Reason Faustman Criticized

This is a nice profile of Denise Fuastman, who cured diabetic mice with a combination of substances, including spleen stem cells. As the story notes, she was severely criticized, but look at the nonsense reason the paper gives for those attacks:

In 2001, Faustman said it was possible to cure type 1 diabetes in mice with a two-step treatment that blocked their immune systems from destroying their insulin-making beta cells; new beta cells then grew back, and the mice were no longer diabetic. After her announcement, many in the medical community--including some of her own Harvard colleagues--lashed out at her findings, and accused her of cruelly raising the expectations of those suffering from the disease.
Oh please get real. Remember the unbelievable hype at that time over the CURES! CURES! CURES! coming from embryonic stem cell research crowd without receiving harsh criticism from "the scientists?" Right, I missed those attacks, too.

The reason "the scientists" attacked Faustman had to do with the potential that the cure could involve adult stem cells. As things turned out, the treatment apparently doesn't require stem cells at all. But the worry about giving "false hope" was never in the minds of her critics. They were worried that she provided true hope with the "wrong" kind of stem cells and that her research would provide political ammunition for those who supported President Bush's embryonic stem cell funding policy.


Sunday, March 02, 2008

SHS Funnies

Natural selection in action: Zebra learns a new survival mechanism that will be passed down the generations.

More Proof that the Animal Rights Movement Isn't Peaceable

When I began writing my book on the animal rights movement, I believed that there was the "mainstream" movement--if that term is applicable to any ideology as radical as animal rights--and extremists who were violent and dangerous. And I puzzled at the generally muted or non-reaction of most leaders of the mainstream movement and their seeming indifference to arson, the threatening of families, and etc. that are the hallmarks of so-called "direct actions," taken by the likes of ALF and SHAC.

Well, my research and events have led me to the unexpected conclusion that I was in error. There are not two movements, one peaceable and one violent, but one movement; people united in purpose and cause who merely pursue and support each others' different strategies toward the same end. Indeed, the animal rights/liberation movement is a single organism that accepts violence (with some exceptions, i.e. Gary Francione) as a legitimate tactic. Worse, some on the most extreme are edging closer to physical assault and perhaps even murder.

Proof of this is found in Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? a book consisting of chapters about ALF and SHAC written by some of the most notable leaders in the movement.

About ALF and its arson tactic, Ingrid Newkirk writes:

I would hazard to say that no movement for social change has ever succeeded without "the militarism component."...Isn't the chicken house today's concentration camp?--or do we not believe it is wrong to make victims and to deride and persecute those we do not relate to? Will we condemn its destruction or condemn its existence? Which is the more violent wish? If property stands as a mechanism, a platform, or a vehicle for violence, shouldn't it be destroyed?

Steven Best, who co-edited the book and invited the now imprisoned terrorists Rodney Coronado and Kevin Jonas (SHAC-7) to contribute, wrote this:

Realizing that nonviolence against animal exploiters in fact is a pro-violence stance that tolerates their blood-spilling without taking adequate measures to stop it, a new breed of freedom fighters has ditched Gandhi for Machiavelli, and switched from principled nonviolence with the amoral (not to be confused with immoral) pragmatism that embraces animal liberation "by any means necessary." A new civil war is unfolding--one between forces hell-bent on exploiting animals and the earth for profit whatever the toll, and activists steeled to resist this omnicide tooth and nail...
In the world of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, the FBI, the CIA, and the corporate conglomerates, we are all becoming aliens, foreigners to their pre-modern barbarity by virtue of our very wish to uphold modern liberal values and constitutional rights. Like the "war on drugs," the "war on terrorism" is phony, a front war on privacy, liberty, and democracy. Only counter terrorists can defeat terrorists. May the armies of the animal, earth, and human liberationists rise and multiply in a perfect war against the oppressors of the earth.
Newkirk and Best are two of the most prominent leaders in the movement. No, the animal liberation movement overall is not peaceable. And it is no believer in democracy or it would ostracize the ALF and SHAC types and cooperate with law enforcement in their capture and prosecution. More on this theme as time allows.


Saturday, March 01, 2008

Seventy Percent of Public Say Media Out of Touch

Gee, I wonder why? From the story:

Nearly 70 percent of Americans believe traditional journalism is out of touch, and nearly half are turning to the Internet to get their news, according to a new survey. While most people think journalism is important to the quality of life, 64 percent are dissatisfied with the quality of journalism in their communities, a We Media/Zogby Interactive online poll showed.
This isn't something to celebrate. A vibrant and independent media are crucial to democracy, but so too is a fair media. And that is what is so often missing in today's MSM. It isn't the biased or skewed reporting that clearly takes sides that bothers me so much--it is the refusal of many to fully report the facts that don't fit with the story line. Here are just a few examples that I have personally experienced:

- When I was working with Chip Klooster several years ago--who "kidnapped" his Alzheimer's disease afflicted father Gerald after he heard his mother Ruth planning to take the elder man to Jack Kevorkian--the CA media kept insisting without any factual basis other than Ruth's insistence, that Chip was in it for the money. That was never true, and in fact, Chip paid a huge cost financially and emotionally in successfully saving his father from assisted suicide. Then, when Ruth got the movie deal and I confronted the reporter who had been so insistent about Chip's venal motives, he just shrugged and said they were both nuts.

- Speaking of Kevorkian, the media's insistence that he helped the "terminally ill" commit suicide when most weren't, and their refusal to mention his goal of human vivisection.

- The media's refusal to report or barely mention that when Michael Schiavo wanted Terrie dehydrated, he was living with another woman, was engaged to her, and had children by her. That didn't look good so they usually just called him her "husband" and didn't bring it up in order to pursue the religious right angle. The use of the term "husband," was accurate but woefully incomplete if readers were to understand the story since it strongly implied that Michael was a loyal husband to Terri when he had definitely not been for a very long time. Indeed, having children with a fiance` should have been seen as abandonment of the marriage.

- Adult stem cell successes: Need I say any more about the media blockade on that issue?

- When New Jersey passed a bill permitting cloning, implantation, and gestation through the ninth month--a very big and radical deal--I wrote about it and mentioned it repeatedly in interviews with reporters for the Miami Herald and LA Times, to name two, and provided proof. None of it ever made the stories. Instead, the reporters stopped calling.

I could go on and on, and this doesn't even get into the language media use to shore up one side and downgrade another--such as the KC Star's insistence on using early stem cell for embryonic stem cell.

But people aren't dumb. Most sense they are being denied the full scoop because of its potential impact on outlooks and views. They resent it and that is a big reason why many newspapers are losing readers and TV news viewers. That is why 'alternative' sources have become so important: People want to learn, as Paul Harvey puts it, the rest of the story that the mainstream reporters with their near uniformity of views and pack mentality often leave out.


Patents: The Real Stem Cell Fight

While "the scientists" have groused about the Bush policy as interfering with ESCR advances, the real hindrance in the field have been the patents claimed by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, based on James Thomson's original work. As I wrote previously here and here, those patents are being challenged. Well, apparently round one goes to the Association. From the story:

The decision to uphold the 913 patent is the first in a review process that began in October 2006, when the patent office agreed to re-examine three UW-Madison stem cell patents following challenges brought by the New York-based Public Patent Foundation and the California-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

The two consumer organizations, which can appeal the decision to the Patent and Trademark Office's Board of Patent Appeals once it is deemed final, have argued that the patents are overly broad and should never have been granted. They also contend that the patents have served to limit stem cell research in the United States.

They vowed to continue their patent challenge despite what they called "a non-final" decision by patent office regarding the inter partes re-examination of the 913 patent. WARF has 30 days to respond to the ruling, which is unlikely since it is a favorable one, and then the challenging parties would have 30 days to respond to WARF.
This fight over money illustrates a phenomenon that is too little understood in the country today: Science has become a commercial enterprise--even in the ivory covered walls of the university. The days of "publish or perish" are over. The current mantra is patent or perish.